Editor, News Watchman,
It is well known that Pike County has had significant budget challenges over the last couple years culminating in a substantially reduced budget for fiscal year 2020. The budget process, described briefly, is as follows: the Budget Committee, comprised of the auditor, treasurer and prosecutor, establish and certify the expected revenue for the next fiscal year. When that figure is established the Board of Commissioners’ responsibility is to allocate those funds across all departments funded by the Pike County General Fund. By law the Board cannot allocate more than what is projected.
In years past, Pike County has enjoyed a significant roll-over or surplus to add to yearly budgets. Due to several factors that roll-over amount has been depleted to the point that it cannot be utilized as a budget safety net any longer. Additionally, there are two revenue sources that are no longer being collected by the county. The MCO or “nursing home bed tax” as well as the “Personal Property Tax” (replaced by the Commercial Activity Tax, CAT) represent a nearly $1 million reduction of revenue the county no longer collects. When combined with a depleted savings (8 million in 2015, between 200k-500k for 2020) it’s clear that prior years’ budget totals are simply not sustainable. Accordingly, for the first time in over a decade, Pike County has established a budget that is less than the projected revenue. Revenue is estimated to be $8,700,000.00 and the budget is $8,680,000.00, or $20,000.00 less. A very small margin for an entire county.
In order to reduce spending many difficult decisions were made, and many cost savings initiatives were taken. To address a couple of them: the OSU Extension Center budget is supplemented by the county in the amount of just over $200,000.00. That amount was reduced to $110,000.00 for 2020 with the cooperation of the Extension Center, specifically the 4H educator position responsibilities, an obviously important job for our youth, have been assumed by two other Extension Center employees. We’re grateful for the cooperation of the Extension Center to meet the needs of the county by utilizing existing resources.
The Board has historically provided $25,000.00 to the Pike County Fair Board. We are hopeful that we can continue to provide that funding in the years ahead. The Fair is on solid financial footing due to the work of a very active and efficient Fair Board as evidenced by the new barns built for every type of livestock and the excellent quality of entertainment procured each year. We fully support the Fair Board’s efforts and look forward to helping as much as we can for any future projects the fair may undertake.
Nearly every department has reduced staffing to help meet the projected revenue for 2020 and while nobody wants to see jobs lost, those departments, and the people that lead them, showed exemplary leadership and for that we are grateful. It’s important to note that the level of service from these agencies has not suffered despite doing the work with fewer staff.
The Sheriff’s department budget had increased greatly since 2015, peaking in 2017 at over $5,000,000.00 and nearly $5,000,000 in 2018 ($4,961,114.00), and while it’s true that the budget has been reduced it must be considered that the SO budget was vastly inflated compared to available revenue during those years. The total expense to the county due to the Rhoden investigation totaled $600,000.00 and was spent in 2016, so the additional expense cannot be attributed solely to that important investigation. The SO budget is nearly $3,000,000.00 for 2020 which represents over 34% of the entire county budget.
Regarding the Sheriff’s Office, someone that should be recognized is Interim Sheriff Jim Nelson. Sheriff Nelson inherited a department in disarray with the unenviable task of reorganizing as well as reducing costs to bring expenditures in line with revenue. A very difficult job has been performed with excellent leadership and cooperation by the sheriff and his staff to serve Pike County. In addition, relationships are being rebuilt with neighboring counties to enable Pike County prisoners to be housed with much lesser costs rather than all prisoners being transported over two hours away to Butler County. Sheriff’s office employees who live out of the county are no longer permitted to drive vehicles home and the motor pool of nearly 70 vehicles is being reviewed to be reduced to more appropriate levels. The Board is appreciative of being able to work alongside Sheriff Nelson and all other elected leaders during this challenging economic period.
Another well-known issue in Pike County is the overall condition of our roads. The county engineer is responsible for road maintenance and as an elected office holder does not report directly to the Board. We do work together, however, to address all road and bridge issues within the county. A point of fact is that property tax or other county general revenue sources do not fund the engineer’s office. The Engineer is funded from fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. The biggest issue is that funding has simply not kept pace with the expense of maintaining our roads. That fact, combined with several seasons of much higher than normal rainfall, has resulted in an even worse situation. The recently enacted fuel tax is expected to alleviate some funding issues but will not result in an overnight improvement to our roads. We are working closely with the engineer to prioritize projects and to assist in any way possible to improve our road conditions. You will see improvement in county roads!
We are all thankful for the honor and the opportunity to serve the people of Pike County, and we look forward to a prosperous and productive 2020!
Pike County Commissioners (Tony Montgomery, Blaine Beekman, Jerry Miller)