County officials looking at 'austere' budget for 2013
There's a mixed bag of news in the proposed 2013 Franklin County budget.
The good news is the county administrator has recommended against layoffs and furloughs to offset a lack of revenue.
The bad news is that a reduction in state funding, along with unfunded mandates and no growth in real estate property tax revenues, means an "austere" budget for 2013, said Don Brown, county administrator.
Brown has proposed a $304 million budget, an increase of 1.1 percent, or $3 million, over last year.
More than half of that $3 million represents an increase in the cost of employee group insurance -- health, life, dental and workers' compensation coverage, he said.
Meanwhile, the county is trimming costs in the areas of building operations, community partnerships and eliminating jobs through attrition, Brown said.
"Because revenue isn't growing, we have a tight budget and limited options," he said. "Because it's a flat budget, there are very few initiatives for expanded services."
The proposed budget calls for spending $3.6 million on creating a land-bank program, which deals with vacant and abandoned properties, and a $100,000 increase in money spent on promoting travel and tourism in the region.
The budget calls for hiring a new class of 40 deputies to replace retiring deputies in the Franklin County Sheriff's Office.
The budget also provides for an expansion of the sheriff's training academy and a continuation of the county's re-entry program.
One bright spot is the increase in sales tax revenue, which makes up close to 55 percent of general budget support, Brown said. The county anticipates a 7 percent increase, or $9.5 million, next year
"Sales tax revenue has been growing month to month for 23 of the last 25 months," Brown said, "so we're not projecting a quick, sudden change. We believe that growth trend will continue."
Another area that gives Brown a sense of optimism is the local housing market, which appears to be recovering.
The county projects a 32 percent increase, or $1.8 million, in conveyance fees, paid whenever a property is purchased or sold.
Still, the county is looking at $41 million in state reductions and a loss of at least $2 million per year since 2010 in federal money that would have gone toward the enforcement of child support payments.
Furthermore, the national "fiscal cliff" -- automatic spending cuts and the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts -- could result in further cutbacks if not resolved by Congress, Brown said.
On the plus side, the county has $110 million in cash reserves, which helps it maintain its valued AAA bond rating, he said.
Commissioner John O'Grady said the budget represents a sobering look at county finances.
"County administration has done an excellent job to bring forward a recommended budget that provides for the essentials of ensuring public safety and providing for safety net services, but we've reached the point where we can no longer do more with less," O'Grady said.
"Next year, Franklin County will begin to do less with less."
Additional public hearings on the budget are scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 3-4 at the county offices, 373 S. High St.
The commissioners are expected to act on the budget Dec. 18.