Thursday, December 14, 2017


Update:  09:50 AM
Update:  12:17 PM




Commissioner Creighton
Counts Down to Christmas
12 Days Until Christmas


Commissioners Approve 
2018 "Operations" Funding Budget

For the past several meetings Commissioner Janet Creighton has been in a festive mood as she, in her capacity of being president of the Board of Stark County Commissioners, has opened commissioners' meetings with "excitement" that Christmas is on the way.

Twelve Days 'til Christmas!

The commissioners had an additional cheerfulness yesterday because they were able to adopt resolutions approving 2018 Fiscal Year (operations only) budget appropriations BEFORE THE END OF 2017!

Commissioners recently attended (December 10 through 12) the 2017 Annual Winter Meeting of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO) and recited (Creighton and Regula) compliments and amazement the Stark Commissioners were able to pass operating budget appropriations before the end of 2017.

And they were able to do so without being viewed as either being Santa Claus or Scrooges.

Here is a SCPR video recording of the passage of the resolutions and commissioners' comments of the recognition they received from some of their peers.

Commissioners were, at yesterday's meeting, quick to recognize that Budget Director Chris Nichols and Stark County Chief Administrator Brant Luther were the real reason why commissioners have been able to deal quickly with operational budget matters this year and last year.

The SCPR has been covering the commissioners since 2008 and has witnessed first hand the tortured county budgeting processes that occurred in most of the years up until about three years ago.

There had been showdowns:
  • with the Veterans Service Commission with threats of lawsuits over the funding levels of the VSC, 
  • involving an implicit threat that Judge Dixie Park would order (a power that judges have) the commissioners to appropriate according to her will, and 
  • with Prosecutor John Ferrero about his seemingly annually asking commissioners for additional mid-year or later appropriations
And, of course, there was the perennial problem of department heads padding their requests knowing that the commissioners would as a matter of course significantly pare down the actual amounts appropriated.

All that hubbub and turmoil is pretty much a thing of the past.

However, there is always something to be questioned in reviewing the final product of the operations budgeting process.  Nichols tells the SCPR that the "capital" will take place in January.  Likely during the time The Report will be basking for some two to three months in the warmth and "sunny nearly every day" of Oahu Hawaii where youngest daughter Kasi lives.

And, of course, readers of  The Stark County Political Report know that The Report delights in asking public officials questions and the budgeting process fertile ground for doing so.

The SCPR thinks that there are three notable factors in the 2018 FY Stark County Operating Budget:

First, the Stark County Coroner takes the prize for not only staying in line with commissioners' expectation but in absorbing a lesser 2018 over 2017 appropriation of $58,977 for a prize winning reduction of some 6%.

Second, on the other end of the appropriation spectrum, is the Stark County Auditor overall department increase (including Information Technology) of 20.3%.  If one takes Nichols numbers per auditor office line items at face value (auditor:  5.9%; IT 14.4%), then the increase appears to be 20.3%.

But Nichols says not so, to wit:

By aggregating, Nichols computes the overall department increase at 11.7% (still way over what other departments are getting in 2018 operations appropriations.

To the SCPR, Nichols ought to in future budgets  (in order to avoid confusion) asterisk (*) the Auditor/IT line items and give what is the "real" overall picture of 11.7% rather create an illusion that the total increase is 20.3%

The SCPR inquired of Auditor Alan Harold and Budget Director Chris Nichols for a justification for the sizeable increase for the office over 2017.

Apparently, why one cannot simply add up the 5.9% and the 14.4% is that the IT budget is two times the rest of the auditor's office budget.

To repeat, hopefully Nichols will reconfigure these numbers in 2019 to avoid confusion.

Additional explanation by Nichols on the 11.7% increase, to wit:

In the Auditor’s Office, 2 employees are scheduled to get greater than a 2% increase.  One raise is for a promotion, to replace a retiring employee and the 2nd is a merit increase. The rest of the increase comes from a $10,000 increase in Medical Insurance costs and the cost of hiring an employee to train in the department with the retiring employee, before the retirement, causing a temporary staff increase, until the retirement takes place.

In the IT department, as noted on Slide #13, under “New or Increased Required or Contractual 2018 Expenses”, $295,000 of the $325,000 increase is the County’s Microsoft License expense, which had previously been paid as a Capital expense, but needed to the moved into the Operating Budget.  This is not a new expense to the County, but needed to be moved into the Operational Budget this year, from Capital.  If you back out the $295,000, the increase in the core IT budget is only $30,000 or 1.3%.

A third noteworthy item is the $700,000 ($1.4 million for a full year) in retiring/servicing the bonds being issued by Stark County to finance purchase of a state-of-the-art radio system for law enforcement and emergency services uses.

The commissioners expect that the county will pay about $1.45 million in interest over the ten year life of the bond issuance.

Finally, there is a SCPR question on the matter of in excess of 2% of commissioner guidelines for employee pay increases.

Here is Nichols response:

·         Auditor – As noted above.  Merit Increase of 9.23% to Dennis Winner and 12.51% Promotional increase to Jessica Preston (replacing the retiring employee)
·         Prosecutor – Had requested ½ of an IT person (that had previously been shared with Family Court, plus 1 Juvenile Secretary.  Was provided $35,000 towards one of those requests, not both. – Employee to be determined by the Prosecutor
·         Sheriff – As noted in the presentation, was provided $341,000 for increases required by union agreements for all bargaining unit personnel
·         Common Pleas Court – General Division – $34,600 increase towards salary increases for the Intensive Supervision Probation Officers, per a salary study, to stabilize the workforce and in anticipation of increased workload related to the F5-TCAP changes.  8% Increases to ISP Officers
·         Family Court – Increase $23,000 for the ½ of the IT position previously shared with the Prosecutor.  This is not a salary increase to the employee, just a redistribution of the cost between departments.
·         Records Center – Increase for the full year expense of an employee hired mid-year in 2017.  Again, not a salary increase to the employee, just allocating a full year expense for someone hired mid-year in 2017.    
·         Facilities – Increase for Org Chart changes made in 2017, for the addition of an Assistant manager and changing 1 Maintenance (I) position to a Maintenance (II). .  Again, not a salary increase to any employee, just allocating the full year salary expense for the updated Org Chart positions.    

All-in-all, the SCPR agrees with the commissioners highly positive evaluation of the budgeting work done by Nichols and Luther.

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