Tuesday, June 11, 2002

State cuts make Butler budget tight

County may limit pay raises

By Steve Kemme, skemme@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Next year's Butler County general fund budget might be the leanest in 14 years.

        Even 3 percent cost-of-living raises for county employees might become too expensive.

        State funding cutbacks and rising expenses have caused the county to hold employee pay raises for 2003 to 3 percent and allow no increases in other line items.

        But if the state makes further cuts in county funding, Butler might have to eliminate any employee raises for 2003, officials said Monday.

        County Administrator Derek Conklin said erasing salary increases for next year would be a “last resort.”

        “But we're getting close to that last resort,” he said.

        The last time Butler County denied its employees cost-of-living raises was 1989, Mr. Conklin said.

        The county commissioners will hold a public hearing on next year's proposed $70 million budget at 7 p.m. July 2 in their meeting room in the Government Services Center, 315 High St.

        The commissioners won't be approving a final budget until late this year.

        Butler receives $5 million a year in local government funds from the state. The county keeps 35 percent and allocates the rest to its cities and townships for specified projects.

        If the state reduced that amount, Butler will have to look at scrapping the planned raises, Commissioner Courtney Combs said.

        “We have no place else to turn,” he said.

        Reducing or erasing raises for union employees would require negotiating.

        Contributing to Butler's financial pressures next year are the $3.5 million annual operating cost of the new jail, which will open June 21, and the $200,000 cost of adding a juvenile court judge and a Common Pleas Court judge.

        The county will have to pay for the salaries of the two new judges' staffs and part of the judges' salaries.

        The commissioners plan to place a proposed county sales tax increase of undetermined size on the November general election ballot.

        But Commissioner Mike Fox said a sales tax increase would not help the general fund. Revenue from the sales tax increase probably would be earmarked for specific road or other infrastructure projects, he said.

        The commissioners had approved a sales tax increase in December, but rescinded it after opponents gathered enough signatures to place it on the May ballot.

        “We were going to use some of the revenue from that tax increase for the general fund, but some people objected to that,” Mr. Fox said.


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