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County Commission Communications
A Periodic Column Written by Ed Douglas, Presiding Commissioner

2020 Livingston County Budget Complete
February, 2020

The County completed its budget for the 2020 year. My thanks to all of our officeholders who met with us individually to discuss their respective departments. These officeholders were our commissioners (myself, Dave Mapel -Western Commissioner, and Alvin Thompson - Easter Commissioner), Sheriff Steve Cox, Recorder Amy Baker, Prosecutor Adam Warren, Assessor Steve Ripley, Collector-Treasurer Paula McCoy, Public Administrator Sherry Parks, and County Clerk Sherry Parks (if you didn't know it, YES we have two county officials with the same name in the courthouse which can, and does, get confusing at times). Special thanks to Sherry Parks, the County Clerk. She is the person who does all the preparation, compilation, paperwork, organizing and balancing to make the budget come together. She does a terrific job with this; and we are fortunate to have her talents and experience.

The expense for this year's budget totals $9,948,932. I would say that overstates the actual budget somewhat in that this year we are acting as fiscal agent in conjunction with the USDA Soil and Water Office on repairing $2.1 million of levees. Since these dollars are on both the income and expense side of the budget-making, it appears larger than it would have been otherwise.

Sales Tax and Use Tax (the tax paid by companies for out of state or online purchases) increased about 2% from the year before, and this raised our combined sales and use tax by a total of $96,000 which was a positive. Our combined Sales Tax and Use Tax for 2019 was $2,976,462.

We faced several tailwinds in this year's budget. The court system and the state legislature both acted to eliminate the ability of our judges to collect jail costs from people who have served time in jail. This change in law was supposedly designed in theory to make sure prisoners were not held in jail for not paying their bill if they couldn't afford it. However, in practice, it means that the county no longer has any real leverage to collect jail bills other than a civil suit. Ultimately, this means that inmates basically stop paying. This was a misinformed court ruling and law that has cost our county's budget $120,000 this year. It should be noted that jail cost is a very large expense for our budget at $45 per day. A budgeted 36 prisoners per day for 365 days a year equals $591,000. We are working with the legislature to try and get this law changed. We are also hoping to collect some of this lost revenue by civil suit collection, but this is problematic; and although we hope to collect some of the lost revenue, it is certain to be a big loss for us.

Additionally, a program from the state that had reimbursed the recorder's office was lowered by $20,000 this year which also has an impact on the budget.

We added a third person in the Public Administrator's office to help meet the growing need of people the office services. Over the last 15 years, the amount of people being served has grown from approximately 40 to nearly 100. The Public Administrator's office acts as a guardian and/or conservator to handle the financial and well-being affairs of people who need assistance and who are appointed by the courts. At one time, this used to be primarily older people who needed help with their affairs. However, with increasing societal issues that include broken homes, abuse and increased drug use, there are now more young people who also need assistance.

We also added an additional deputy to our sheriff's department which was also needed to keep up with increasing calls and crime, a great deal of which also relates to drug offenses.

Like the City of Chillicothe, Livingston County is moving to a partially self-funded insurance program this year in order to combat the rising cost of health care. Doing this still increased our budgeted costs on health care by 10%, but this is lower than the nearly 30% increase that it would have been otherwise, which we hope saves us about $50,000 this year.

We have budgeted to purchase some updated equipment in the road and bridge department, including replacing a worn-out dump truck. Additionally, we replaced an older sheriff's department vehicle with a new one. This vehicle is partially funded by a grant of nearly $10,000.

We continue to fund a program to improve our county roads in conjunction with the townships with $200,000 which is used to replace their smaller tubes of under two feet in diameter (we have always replaced the larger tubes within the county) and to give each of our 13 townships additional funds to bring a mile of road in each township to a higher standard than previously, as well as tuning up the past miles that were done in previous years to the higher standard. The higher standard includes good ditches, a crowned road, good shoulders and adequate rock. This $200,000 of extra money is on top of the $315,000 that comes from the state's gas tax that is distributed to townships based on road miles in each township (there are approximately 600 miles of county roads in Livingston County).

The county was able to give a 3% cost of living Increase as well as move the starting wage for new employees up 45-cents per hour to make our employees more competitive with the rest of the comparative workforce. This starting wage is still low at $10.70 per hour for our office staff for a 35-hour week. Another consideration for us was to get up to the $12 minimum wage as required by law 2023 by gradually increasing our starting wage. At a 45-cents per year raise in starting wage, we can reach this in 2023. It should be noted that the law increasing the minimum wage specifically exempts governmental entities from compliance; but for all practical purposes, we will not be able to compete without getting there ourselves.

Finally, at the end of the year, we expect to have a real reserve fund equal to 13% of our budget. This is a huge improvement over three years ago before our sales tax increase in which we had basically no reserves. However, it should be noted that ultimately the rule of thumb is to have a 25% reserve. Since we are dependent on sales tax for the majority of our operating revenue, the idea for the reserve is that it could cover three months of operation in a disaster (think back to the Joplin tornado).

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