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Township trustees prepare for budget cuts

As a result of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order to slow down the coronovirus, counties were told they should expect at least a 20 percent drop in sales tax revenue for the rest of 2020.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners recently sent township fiscal officers a letter informing them of the drop in revenue, and that there would be a “significant reduction in county allocations to the townships for the rest of 2020.”

Commissioner Kevin Ritter said the 20 percent reduction isn’t set in stone, it’s just a general guideline the state set.

“I think it’s their best estimate,” he said. “The reporting by the state lags by three months, so there are no reliable numbers yet. It will probably be July before we have reliable numbers.”

He said the commission sent the letter “out of an abundance of caution” and told them ahead of time the cuts may be coming.

“Some of them were planning to purchase equipment or do road projects,” Ritter explained. “They’ll need to prioritize what they’re going to be doing this year.”

He said they were trying not to “push the panic button,” but they wanted the townships to be aware. Washington County is the only county in the state that allocates part of the sales tax money for its townships.

Wayne Isner, Adams Township trustee, said he’s worried as they won’t know what money they will have for the rest of the year.

“There are equipment payments to work with and you don’t have any idea,” he said. “I’m very worried about what we can do and if we have enough.”

He said he’s also worried if there will be enough to pay employees.

“Two years in a row, (township trustees) didn’t take our pay so we’d have enough to pay employees,” he said.

He said this has been a rude awakening for trustees.

“I hope those in the townships understand there’s only so much we can do,” Isner said. “It’s not that we aren’t going to do anything. We won’t have money to do anything with.”

He said it isn’t just townships that will have budget cuts, it’s all county entities.

“Everybody’s going to be hurt in the county. It’s going to be a big budget cut for everybody,” he said. “This was a world-changing event and everybody’s in the same boat.”

Darla Haas, fiscal officer for Aurelius Township, said any cut would be huge for the small township.

“We’re just going to do the best with what we have,” she said. “That’s all we can do.”

She said the matter will be discussed at their next meeting the first of June.

“A 20 percent cut is going to have a huge impact,” Haas said. “We hope the money will come back soon. We’ll make do as we do with our household budgets.”

She said they are hoping and praying nothing bad happens to township roads in the meantime.

The commissioners’ letter told the fiscal officers once the stay-at-home order is fully lifted, they hope things bounce back quickly. If they do, they look to restore the lost funding as soon as possible. They also expect the economic situation to be dire for at least 2020 and into 2021.

“Again, we will not know the full economic situation until this summer, so we cannot give you an estimated reduction now,” the letter states. “The best information we are getting from the county auditor is that a 20 percent-plus drop is not unrealistic.”

Some county department heads offered to return money they were allocated from the permissive sales tax they receive from the county general fund.

Roger Wright, county engineer, offered to return the entire allocation his department is to receive, and the county prosecutor’s office offered to return funds allocated for an office rebuild and hiring of an assistant prosecutor.

At last week’s commission meeting, the sheriff’s office returned $107,000 they were to receive.

“I think it’s a terrible thing that we have to cut budgets,” said Jedd Butler, Independence Township trustee. “With sales tax down, I understand it, but everyone needs more money. I hate to see it.”

While all townships will have to do with less money, some are better equipped to handle the decrease.

“We’re very fortunate with our fiscal officer. When she did our budget, she looks at the high note on what something will cost,” said Gary Doan, Muskingum Township trustee and president of the Washington County Township Trustee Association. “We’re not going to feel it as much as some of them.”

He said they are doing OK with the two communities in his township, Devola and Oak Grove, and they aren’t scheduling any paving or chip seal since they don’t know what the immediate future will bring.

“We’re playing it safe with our finances,” he said. “When it comes to paving, we had plans to do four roads this year. We backed down to two roads with about a mile of paving. It’s about $75,000 to $80,000.”

He said they are also still working on slip repairs.

Watertown Township roads are also going to be impacted by the budget cuts.

“The road projects we had planned, we are going to have scale back on,” said Annette Schott, fiscal officer for Watertown Township, noting they are still working on 2018 FEMA projects.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

At a glance:

• Washington County townships will possibly take a budget cut of at least 20 percent.

• The cuts are due to the COVID-19 shutdown, which impacted permissive taxes.

• Part of the permissive taxes are used to help fund townships in Washington County.

•This budget cut affects all county departments.

Source: Times research.

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