WILMINGTON — Halfway into the fiscal year, Clinton County’s general fund currently projects a deficit, though its commissioners say it won’t end the year in a deficit and argue that the budget’s position is better than it appears.
Commissioner Kerry Steed, for instance, said the county’s budget commission is conservative in its revenue estimates and expects more revenue to come in before the year ends. Commissioner Mike Curry added that there were expenses to the general fund from 2014 and other costs that he believes should have been expensed from other funds rather than the general fund.
When the commissioners first passed the 2015 budget, it estimated $15,295,495 in revenue and $15,244,033 in expenses, a positive difference of little more than $50,000.
In July, reports generated by MUNIS, the county’s accounting software, suggest the Clinton County general fund is projected to take in $16.3 million and expend $16.8 million, leaving a $500,000 deficit.
However, those numbers don’t include revenue received that wasn’t budgeted, such as a $320,000 repayment of an advance for the Clinton County Parks District.
Nor do those numbers include lines where more money is already committed than is appropriated by the county.
For example, the commissioners’ own portion of the budget, which includes many departments, may need another $200,000 in its budget (possibly from the parks refund) to pay for encumbered, or obligated, bills. Some encumbrances, according to Steed, may not be realized by the end of the year.
In the same vein, even though a department has money budgeted for an expense, office supplies for instance, doesn’t mean it will use all of it.
“When they provide us with a revenue number, on which we budget to, they usually are very conservative,” said Steed. “For instance, what we may receive in sales tax revenue could be, let’s say, $2.5 million. They estimate the revenue to be, say, $2.2 million. So, there will be an additional $300,000” received in Steed’s example.
“It’s safer for us to budget to a more conservative number than it is to budget right to the limit of what we expect to be receiving,” Steed continued.
Steed also pointed out that the commissioners and the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office calculated two different salary numbers. In the end, to satisfy previously signed labor agreements, the commissioners appropriated about $100,000 more in salaries.
Curry added that over the past two years, the budget has had surpluses of almost $1 million, mostly due to higher-than-expected revenues. He said he would expect 2015 to also end with more revenue.
Curry also said the commissioners meant to pay $60,000 for upgrades and repairs to the Clinton County Fairgrounds from payments from Regional Care Hospital Partners, which bought Clinton Memorial Hospital.
But, he said, Clinton County Auditor Terry Habermehl’s office said the fairgrounds weren’t explicitly listed as a county building. Instead of arguing, the commissioners agreed to pay for it from the general fund, according to Curry.
“We track these items here to make sure that we know what the additional (appropriations) are, and it’s very important to the commissioners,” said Steed, who keeps a notebook of appropriations and figures in his desk. “We’ve taken a stance on the budget that we want to try to budget to our revenues, and the revenues that we budget to are those conservative revenues that are provided to us by the budget commission.”
Going forward, Steed said he believed the department heads and elected officials did a good job of estimating their needs for the year, so he didn’t expect many more appropriations. He also said he didn’t anticipate big shifts to revenue, positive or negative.
Curry added that appropriations are typically reserved for unexpected costs or budgeting errors, including omitted requests for funds.
According to Ohio law, counties and other subdivisions can only spend according to money they have or are expected to earn as certified by a budget commission.
The commissioners have several million dollars, including carryover and a reserve account, in various forms other than revenue that could be used in the event of a deficit.
Additionally, the 25 percent down payment for courthouse renovations, about $1.3 million, is paid from a non-general fund account.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.