Geauga County Commissioners began putting together their budget for the coming year, one that remains debt free.

Adrian Gorton, county budget finance administrator, and county administrator David Lair presented the annual permanent appropriations for 2019, showing $34,331,135 in spending. Mr. Gorton said the expenses could grow because of additional requests from various departments, but that spending will depend on the balance at the close of the year.

Mr. Gorton said the county is anticipating a carryover of funds from 2018 of approximately $5.01 million and revenues of $29,321,135.

However, he said, department heads have made requests that would push expenses to $35,483,464. Mr. Gorton said the county traditionally has budgeted to show a zero balance at the end of the year.

The vast majority of revenues for the county is derived through sales and real estate taxes. Mr. Gorton said the county has projected an increase of about $1 million over the $13 million generally received through sales taxes. Sales taxes comprise about 47.75 percent of the county’s revenues while real estate taxes account for 26.58 percent, he said.

Mr. Lair noted that while residents pay 6.75 percent sales tax, the county receives only 1 percent of that amount. He said the county had increased sales taxes from 0.5 percent in 2003 to the current 1 percent.

Mr. Gorton added that the average sales tax in the state is 7.124 percent and only two other counties in the state have lower sales taxes.

Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri pointed out that many residents believe commissioners are responsible for the entire tax that residents see on their tax bills. He said the commissioners only operate on a small percentage of that entire tax while schools, townships, libraries, parks and other county services take the rest.

Mr. Gorton said commissioners actually only receive somewhere between 11 and 15 cents for every dollar paid in taxes. Total appropriations for the county stand at $120,214,217 compared to the $34,331,135 in the county general fund that commissioners have control over, he said.

He noted that public safety, comprised of the sheriff’s office, coroner and building departments, will account for about $12.1 million of the total expenses. Another $10.3 million is allocated to legislative for such offices as the auditor, commissioners and treasurer. The courts will have about $5.1 million in expenses, he said.

In the budget, Mr. Gorton said, human services account for $600,000, health services $3 million and conservation and recreation about $500,000.

Commissioner Walter “Skip” Claypool said he would like the county to set up a fleet management program, noting that it uses a lot of vehicles, particularly in the sheriff’s office. He said there may be savings by bringing all vehicle purchases “under one umbrella.”

Mr. Gorton noted that the budget also includes a request from the auditor for $546,000 for additional staff to run the automated data processing center, which will also take over handling the phone systems, now overseen by the maintenance department.

Another $2.36 million is being sought by the board of elections to upgrade election equipment, although a portion of that total is expected to be provided by the state for new scanners.

Mr. Gorton said the clerk of courts is seeking additional funding for salaries as is the sheriff’s office, which is looking to comply with labor agreements.

Mr. Gorton said the sheriff’s office has already spent $250,000 toward next year’s budget for vehicles. He said the rush on the expenditure was needed because the state bid program is going to hybrid vehicles next year and those vehicles are expected to cost $4,000 to $5,000 more per vehicle. He said the sheriff’s office also expressed concern with the new vehicle’s reliability.

He said the general fund remains debt free and the county will look “cautiously” to the future with capital projects online.

Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri said despite people on social media or the press “casting stones” at commissioners, the board can be proud of how it has handled its finances.

“This group can be proud as can be,” he said. “This is a job well done.”

He said those who question Geauga only need to go to others counties to see how their finances are. He credited his fellow commissioners, Mr. Lair, Mr. Gorton and Gerry Morgan, assistant county administrator, with working to have a debt-free county.

Mr. Spidalieri said the criticism on commissioners’ plans for building new facilities is unjustified, saying the county is not doing it to have “fancy buildings,” but to save the county money.

“There is no decision in this office that has been made in a sloppy manner,” Mr. Spidalieri said.

Mr. Claypool said neighboring Portage County is struggling with its finances at this time. He said Geauga has worked not only to save where it can, but also focusing on where it can do more with less. He said the board is working to continue to provide the best services for residents.

Mr. Lair said the largest share of expenses in the county is for salaries of its workers. He said commissioners approach county spending just as a taxpayer would, paying attention to every chance to save.

Joseph Koziol Jr. started his career in journalism in 1981. He joined the Solon Times in 1992 and covered the city of Solon for 10 years. An award winning reporter, Mr. Koziol has been covering Geauga County since 2012.

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