The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Jan. 28, 2022

Details of 2016 county budget

The presentation of a series of numbers makes for poor reading, but when you’re talking budgets, there is really no other way to do it. Balancing these numbers is a big chunk of our responsibility in the commissioners’ office. Here’s how Van Wert County’s financials look for 2016.

The county budget gets approved at the end of every year following months of meetings with several of the departments. This past week, we finalized appropriations for 2016 and I sat down with Van Wert’s legendary auditor, Nancy Dixon, to better understand all the revenue and expense accounts myself so I could explain them to anyone who cares to read further.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum
By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

Estimated county revenue for 2016 is in the nature of $28.4 million. Of that, $9.7 million is money the commissioners actually control, which is known as the general fund. The rest of it, nearly $19 million, is earmarked for the various agencies — it comes in and we approve it going to the agencies, but, in most cases, we have little say over its going. We often must approve how it is spent, however.

An example of an entity that has its own money separate from the general fund is the Engineer’s Office. Kyle Wendel’s department will operate on a $4.4 million budget in 2016. This money comes from gas taxes and license plate registration fees. Thomas Edison is another example and will receive $3.2 million from its levy and other non-county government funding sources. Both Kyle and Thomas Edison Superintendent Jim Stripe will come to us through the year for approval of certain expenditures from these funds.

Also not in the general fund are the Department of Job and Family Services ($2.1 million), Brumback Library ($1 million), Van Wert Solid Waste ($579k), Ohio State University Extension ($195k), and a host of other such entities that are financed by levies, fees, and state and federal agencies. These departments make their own budgets and are responsible to the State Auditor as we are.

Back to the $9.7 million that we actually control. The county’s discretionary money is gathered from two primary sources: Real estate taxes will generate $1.5 million in 2016 and sales tax is expected to generate a little over $4 million. The State of Ohio provides local government funds of $373k. This amount was reduced five years ago by $200k, probably in anticipation of new money to Ohio counties from the casinos, which are estimated to provide us $330k in 2016.

Payments on the windmill PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) will provide $303k to the county general fund. We will receive $100k from investment income and $300k from conveyance fees, which are the 0.4 percent fees paid on the sales price of real estate upon transfer. Then there are a host of minor revenue streams, such as treasurer fees ($128k), fines collected from the various courts ($124k), the leasing of county property to the State of Ohio ($96k), income from renting out the county farm ($72k). There is even one kind soul that donates $1,000 to the county every year.

This money gets spread among the general fund agencies. About a third of it goes to the Sheriff’s Office to enforce laws and house inmates. When you include the costs of the Common Pleas Court, Juvenile Court, Prosecutor’s Office, Probation Department, and the Public Defender’s Office, which are all maintained largely out of the general fund, criminal activity eats up over half of our discretionary money. We all would be wealthier, especially the criminals themselves, if everyone would just obey the law.

The general fund is distributed, of course, based on how many employees and resources are needed in each office. The Commissioners ($280k), Auditor ($186k), Treasurer ($145k), Prosecutor ($356k), Probation Department ($150k), Juvenile Court ($410k), Clerk of Courts ($173k), Coroner ($63k), and Recorder ($146k), make up only about half of these offices.

We are blessed as Van Wert County commissioners in that all of our agencies generally return money at the end of the year. In most government budget situations, an agency will be sure to spend all of its allotted money to be guaranteed to obtain at least the same amount in the next year. Not so here.

And when we talk about revenue, that word is really just a euphemism for “taken from taxpayers in one way or another”. It has been our goal, all three of us being fiscal conservatives, to find a way to reduce taxes over time. That is a difficult goal. Property taxes are not really ours to lower. Of the taxes on my personal residence, for example, 68 percent goes to the school, 8 percent to Vantage, 7.8 percent to the township, and 7.4 percent to Thomas Edison. Only 4.2 percent goes to the county general fund (I know, that doesn’t add up to 100 percent — the library, OSU Extension, senior citizens’ fund, and mental health fund also get smaller shares).

The sales tax can be cut. The sales tax in Van Wert County is 7.5 percent. Of that, 6 percent goes to the state and 1.5 percent goes to the county. The problem with cutting the sales tax is that it has to go by quarter percent increments. We have the authority to cut the rate to 7.25 percent, but that would cut $666k out of our revenue. This would be hugely irresponsible because we don’t have the authority to raise it back to 7.5 percent if necessary. Commissioners can lower the rate, but only voters can raise it.

We’re not on a shoestring budget but we’re not rolling in it either. I would describe the county budget as healthy. In 2015, we had two huge expenses, one expected and one not. Every 12th year or so, we have 27 employee pay periods instead of 26, which costs the county an extra $220k. We budgeted for that. The unexpected expense was $254k that Van Wert Towne Center didn’t pay on its bonds. The county, as guarantor, was on the hook for that payment.

In the end, despite those expenses, we finished 2015 about $150k in the black, a number that fluctuates as money is returned from agencies over the next several months. You should not expect a sales tax cut in the near future, but we are doing our best to maintain costs and not grow government. 2016 looks to be another year where we will be able to do this.

POSTED: 01/02/16 at 7:58 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions