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"Tough Days Ahead" For County Commissioners After Sales Tax Repeal

Tana Weingartner
Hamilton County Commissioners Todd Portune and Denise Driehaus approved a sales tax hike of .02 percent in June. In August, they rescinded it following threat of a lawsuit.

A week after a Hamilton County sales tax was withdrawn, commissioners are bracing for a budget based on deep cuts.

The .02 percent tax was going to address a projected $29 million deficit, but the county faced a lawsuit over how the tax was enacted so commissioners pulled it. Board President Todd Portune says county departments had better brace for what's coming.

"2019 is not going to be a typical year," he said. "Nor is 2020, or 2021, or any of the years beyond that, unless the revenue picture that we face is changed, or our expense picture is changed."

County Administrator Jeff Aluotto says without a new source of revenue, county spending needs to be cut by 17 percent. He says the county's budget is structurally out of balance.

"As we get into balancing, we may actually find ourselves in a position of going slightly deeper in order to accommodate some of those long-term structural balance issues," he said, adding that he wants to know what departments or projects commissioners consider sensitive, and if the administration should consider putting a sales tax increase on the ballot.

A hiring freeze is also an option on the table. Commissioners will study how the county handled one during the recession. As of Monday afternoon, Hamilton County's website listed 38 job openings.

Said Portune, "There are going to be some tough days ahead relative to county operations."