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Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Mercer County to give pay raises, not Auglaize

By Daily Standard Staff
By SHELLEY GRIESHOP and
JANIE SOUTHARD
newsdept@dailystandard.com
For the first time in many years, Auglaize County employees will see no pay increases in 2009. Also, it appears there will be no raises for county elected officials throughout the state.
But in Mercer County, commissioners this morning approved a maximum 3 percent raise for their county employees.
Auglaize County Commissioner John Bergman on Monday afternoon said many counties around the area have not given raises in order to cut back, but noted this is the first time for Auglaize County.
"Nobody really knows what to do, but unlike the federal government, we have to have a balanced budget," Bergman said. "Unfortunately, that means budget cuts here and at the state level."
Most county funding problems begin with the trickle down of the much larger national situation.
Gov. Ted Strickland announced earlier this month the state is facing not only a deficit in the current fiscal year (a shortfall of at least $640 million), but the state will face a deficit of more than $7 billion in the coming operating budget (2010-2011).  
The governor is projecting a cut of as much as 8 percent in local government funds (libraries and small government grant assistance, etc.), which is tied to the state's general fund. This in itself is of concern as Auglaize commissioners try to cut $2 million from its 2009 budget.
The trio of commissioners are meeting with department heads this afternoon to encourage them to find another 5 percent to cut from their department budget.
The 2009 projected county sales tax also is a worry, Bergman said.
"The 2009 projection is the same as it was for 2008, meaning the new projection is flat; well, even worse than flat because we're ahead right now about 4 percent," he said.
Auglaize County Auditor Janet Schuler said that issue is hard to tell at this point.
"There's a lag with regard to sales tax. We haven't had a sales tax return since Lowes came in. But sales tax is something we'll watch very closely ... A great cause for concern is that our interest receipts are down. It's hard right now for small governments to make money on interest," she said.
She agrees that there's trouble ahead if the economy doesn't pick up.
"We haven't talked about what to cut next. That's to be determined ... I tell them how much they have and they decide how to spend it," Schuler said.
In Mercer County, commissioners this morning agreed to allow department heads to give up to a 3 percent raise to employees based on employee evaluations. Commissioners also decided there would be no merit increases during 2009, which were allowed in past years.
"Raises for county employees are typically implemented on hiring dates so finances aren't impacted all at once," commissioner Jerry Laffin said.
Laffin pointed out that all county elected officials' salaries, which are set by the state, will probably be frozen beginning in January, although there's been no official word yet from Columbus. Those county positions that fall under this ruling include: treasurer, sheriff, clerk of common pleas court, recorder, commissioner, prosecuting attorney, engineer and coroner.
The "pay bill" legislation gives cost of living or a maximum raise of 3 percent to county elected officials. The current period of the pay bill expires in 2008, and it appears legislators intend to allow it to expire - meaning no raises, Laffin observed.
"The salary freeze could last up to four years for officials who are beginning a four-year term in January," Laffin said.
The freeze has happened only twice during Laffin's term of almost 28 years.
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Additional online story on this date
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