County mulls rainy day fund

Seneca County commissioners discussed establishing a budget stabilization fund Tuesday that could put the county in a better position financially for years to come.

In December, the board discussed setting aside money in a “rainy day fund” to protect against changes at the state level that could leave holes in the county budget.

For example, counties stopped receiving Medicaid sales tax funding in July. Lawmakers announced in August that funding would be provided to counties to make up for that loss in 2017 and 2018, but Commissioner Mike Kerschner said the money would stop being received in 2019.

The initial proposal from Kerschner last year was to set aside about $500,000 to be used only for operations if needed. The board decided to wait for first-quarter revenue results before deciding specifics for the fund.

Kerschner said Tuesday that the county is on track for expected revenue for the first quarter. The county budgeted for about $17.5 million in revenue and $16.85 million in expenses for 2018.

County Administrator Stacy Wilson said more funding than expected was received from the state to make up for the Medicaid sales tax change.

Given the results, Commissioner Holly Stacy said she believes a system should be established to allocate money to a budget stabilization fund. Kerschner and Commissioner Shayne Thomas agreed.

“We can do the opposite of what other government entities do,” Kerschner said. “Instead of spending our grandchildren’s money, we can put it in a savings account.”

Stacy also said she hopes allotting money to the fund will set a precedent for future commissioners.

Tuesday, Thomas proposed adding extra Medicaid funds from the state into yearly revenue and allocating $125,000 quarterly, including for the first quarter this year, to budget stabilization.

He said state law would allow the county to allocate up to 5 percent to the fund. That would be about $218,750 a quarter.

Kerschner said he’d like to see the board set a minimum percentage, but said more could be committed if revenue is higher than expected.

“We all know there’s going to be (an economic) downturn, but we don’t know when,” he said. “We are preparing for this.”

Kerschner said in recent years the county has forecast a budget surplus and revenues have been even higher than expected.

Thomas said he thinks that makes it a perfect time to start the rainy day fund.

“Budgets are up and down, we are trying to smooth that cycle,” he said.

Thomas said having 4.5 percent unemployment and an economy that is “rolling” allows the county to begin the fund to insulate itself.

“This is 10 years of fiscal leadership, not for just this year,” he said.

Wilson said the change should take pressure off the county and help it avoid situations such as in previous years, when the county was on the verge of laying off employees to fund operations.

Commissioners agreed to research the issue and expect to make a decision at Tuesday’s meeting.

In other business, Seneca County Common Pleas Court Judge Steve Shuff said he and fellow common pleas judge Michael Kelbley were to return about $86,000 to the county due to “increased efficiencies” within offices of the two judges.

Shuff said of the $86,000, they would be requesting back about $31,500 for four new recording systems in the Seneca County Justice Center. He said the old systems were left in the Courthouse Annex for use by Seneca Juvenile and Probate Courts personnel.

The systems cost about $25,500 and a new copier also is to be purchased for about $6,000.

Shuff also said indigent counsel fees were down by about $22,000 compared to a three-year average.

The new expenditures are expected to be appropriated within the budget next week.

In other news, Thomas said the county airport’s consulting firm is applying for an Ohio Department of Transportation grant and an annual Federal Aviation Administration grant.

Stacy said the airport looks as good as it does because the county has received similar grants in the past.

Applications for the grants are to be updated and brought before commissioners after they are completed.