Hamilton County Proposed 2020 Budget Includes 5-Year Plan, Extends Sales Tax

Sep 3, 2019

Hamilton County commissioners are reviewing the county administrator's recommended 2020 budget. The proposed document includes a financial plan for the next five years.

County Administrator Jeff Aluotto says the $276 million proposal "represents a markedly different strategy for presenting a financial recommendation to the Board than has been undertaken in the past." It aims to close a projected $20 million deficit.

It includes continuing the quarter-cent sales tax that's set to expire in April 2020. Taxpayers agreed to that five-year increase to fund renovations to Union Terminal. Under the proposed budget, collections following April 2020 would go toward county operations. That means the county's current 7% sales tax would remain the same. The proposal does not include an expiration date for the tax.

"Under this proposal, the tax will only collect a half year of revenue in 2020, or roughly $20 million, which will be sufficient to address the defined structural deficit next year," Aluotto says. However, he says there could be small deficits again in years 2023 and 2024.

Aluotto's proposal presents "a balanced budget scenario" for 2020 and plan for the future as well as "a revenue recommendation." The administrator does, however, say projections for the final two years of the five-year plan show "a moderate deficit," which he says should be addressable through routine budget management.

The structural balance is dependent on no major revenue losses or expenditure changes. It includes keeping an additional mill added last year to the property transfer fee, but sunsets that fee in January 2021.

Aluotto says the plan accounts for improvements to the Justice Center, specifically expanded capacity for treatment and reentry programs; increasing sheriff patrols in communities; reducing the 911 detail rate for communities from $16 to $5 per detail; allocates funding for economic development and community revitalization; and addresses deferred maintenance needs on some county buildings.

Most departmental budgets would see slight increases, largely covering salary adjustments and healthcare costs. Highlights include:

  • The Board of Elections is slated for a $1.68 million increase to cover gubernatorial and presidential elections
  • $2.35 million for the 911 Communications Center
  • $1.15 million for the coroner's office to move its firearms section back into the general fund from the restricted fund where it was moved "in 2019 as a one-time fix"
  • $2.4 million for deferred maintenance on county facilities and increases in operating costs of the new crime lab that's slated to open in late 2020
  • $2.5 million for courts, including moving several positions out of the restricted funds and hiring a probation investigator in the electronic monitoring unit
  • $2.5 million for economic development
  • $2.7 million for increases in the public defender's office
  • $5.2 million for the Sheriff's Department

Public hearings are tentatively scheduled for Oct. 3 and Oct. 10. Location details will be released at a later date. The hearings are for both the budget and the proposed sales tax, which requires public meetings. If commissioners approve the sales tax, it would be subject to referendum on the March 2020 ballot.

The county is awaiting conclusions for a financial review currently underway by Crowe LLC.