LISBON - Columbiana County commissioners have approved a 2014 budget they say will provide the sheriff with enough additional funding to hire another deputy or two.
The budget approved at Wednesday's meeting sets spending at $18.8 million for general fund offices and operations, which is about $700,000 more than the original 2013 budget appropriations of $18.1 million.
Commissioners historically adopt a conservative budget as a way to keep spending under control among the individual offices. For example, the county budget in 2012 was $18.4 million, but final spending totals exceeded that by more than $1 million, with commissioners gradually increasing appropriations as needed during the year. This is a pattern commissioners are expected to follow in 2014.
"We feel this is a responsible budget that everyone can live with," said Commission Chairman Mike Halleck.
He said the 2014 budget reflects an increase for most general fund departments, one of which is the sheriff's office. Its 2014 appropriations was set at $2.6 million, up nearly $200,000 from this year.
Halleck said they increased spending for Sheriff Ray Stone in the expectation he will use the money to hire an additional deputy or two. "I would like to see a little more special attention on the western part of the county" where residents feel they are underserved, he said.
Commissioners are doing something a bit different with the budget this year by setting aside $100,000 to cover unanticipated retirement payouts. Retirees are allowed to collect on accumulated sick and vacation days, which can sometimes total as much as $50,000 per person.
"Although I've never been a proponent of the (law), some people can retire with a pretty hefty chunk," Halleck said. "I'm old school and believe sick days should be for when you're sick."
The county policy was changed in 1996, and anyone hired after that date cannot retire and be paid for more than 30 days unused sick and vacation days.
The budget also provides $24,000 for the Office on Aging in Salem, which commissioners had considered doing away with, viewing its services as no longer necessary.
The federal program that funded the office with a combination of federal and county tax dollars was begun in the 1960s, but the federal allocation has declined in recent years from $37,600 to $6,500 in 2013, with only the other source of money being whatever commissioners can provide.
Commissioners provided $39,000 this year, but Halleck questions whether the office is even still needed given that recreational programs and other services it provides for senior citizens can be obtained elsewhere today.
"Some days we have no one (visit the office) and maybe three to four people most days," he said, adding that commissioners decided to fund the office for three to six months in 2014 and see how it goes from there.
Although the county auditor's office has yet to certify how much anticipated revenue commissioners will have to work with in 2014, Halleck expects it to be in the $19.5 million to $19.8 million range. He said this reflects a continued increase in county sales tax collections and revenue from the state casino tax, which appears to be leveling off.
"Columbiana County gets the biggest bang for its money in Ohio," Halleck said, noting they spend the least per person of the 88 counties in the state. He said they are also the largest county in Ohio without an administrator.