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Hamilton County Commissioners Get First Look At Budget Cuts

Bill Rinehart
The 2019 general fund budget is forecast to be hampered by a $28 million deficit.

An expected $28-million general fund budget deficit has Hamilton County commissioners looking for fixes. County Administrator Jeff Aluotto has explained the why, and one possible fix: a quarter-cent sales tax.

At Monday's staff meeting, Aluotto presented options for another revenue increase  - fee increases for cities and townships - and for spending cuts.

Aluotto says if commissioners want to cut across the board, they can, but he'd recommend against it "due to the size of the reductions necessary in order to meet the 2019 budget requirements and also recognizing what we had been through coming out of the recession."

He says Hamilton County has not returned to pre-recession staffing levels, and says it's evident in service levels.

But Aluotto says if commissioners do want to meet the budget gap with spending cuts, they'll be looking at impacting every department. He says cuts would hurt county infrastructure, employee recruitment and retention, and economic development.

Possible cuts include:

  • $3.57 million to the sheriff
  • $7.86 million to courts, prosecutor, clerk of court, and public defender's offices
  • $2.5 million to economic development

Specific programs that would be affected include the Heroin Coalition, the Office of Re-entry, and OSU Extension.
Commissioner Chris Monzel says right now he's not in favor of raising taxes. He says he'd also prefer not to lay off county employees. In the meantime, Monzel says he wants to take a closer look at what cuts to each department would mean.

"How many potentially vacant positions are already there?" he asks. "How many retirements could possibly go through? There are a lot of different avenues that we can go down to see about whether or not they can sustain such a cut."

Aluotto has also laid out fee increases to cities and townships. Those fees cover services including sheriff's patrols, 911 operations, and Emergency Management. The preliminary recommendation is for a $4.1-million increase.

Commissioner Denise Driehaus says no one on the board wants to raise taxes, but dealing with the deficit will likely require both a revenue increase and spending cuts. "This is the first time we've seen what those cuts might look like, and to my view they're fairly dramatic," she says. "Not only to basic services but also to investments."

Driehaus says the commission has invested in programs that have set the stage for improved economic development and opportunity, and quality of life. She's worried cuts will damage those investments.

If commissioners want to consider putting a quarter-cent sales tax on the November ballot, they need to  give county administration guidance by May 9.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.