Saturday, December 4th, 2010
By Shelley Grieshop
County's wage freeze continues
Employees to see second year without pay increase because of low revenue
  With anticipated low revenues and state funding cuts, Mercer County Commissioners have opted to nix employee raises for 2011.
Commissioners had announced in October a plan to give 1.5 percent wage increases to the county's approximately 270 workers - a move they thought would help balance a .9 percent increase in employee contributions for medical insurance.
Rescinding the raises wasn't easy, commissioner Jerry Laffin said.
"It was very difficult," he said Thursday.
Projected general fund expenditures for 2011 exceed expected revenue by approximately $1.2 million, even though sales tax figures are up about 5 percent from last year, commissioners said.
A large portion of the county's projected end-of-the-year carry-over - $800,000 to $900,000 - will be utilized for 2011 appropriations. But that won't be enough, commissioners estimate. They need to cut an additional $400,000 to balance the budget and allow for emergency funds.
Commissioners also are asking county departments that didn't slash a full 5 percent from their budget last year to cut back further in 2011. The departments the county is not mandated to fund - such as the Ohio State University Extension, soil and water and the Lakefield Airport - are being asked to decrease their appropriations by more than 5 percent, if possible.
Commissioners met with department heads the last few weeks to find out how much money they need to operate next year and where cuts can be made. Some agencies were easier to work with than others, Laffin said.
"Some have really cooperated and some of them haven't," he said. "Most of them haven't done too bad cutting 5 percent. Some were hit up pretty hard last year."
For 2010, county departments as a whole cut 9.6 percent from their budget from the previous year. The commissioners chopped 67 percent from the county's capital improvement fund, which put projects such as a new courthouse elevator on hold.
During the past two years, commissioners paid for their own travel expenses for conferences and meetings instead of charging the county for gas and meals, they said. Their office, too, is operating as frugally as possible, so they understand the pain each department is feeling, Laffin said.
Combating next year's budget woes is an estimated $100,000 increase in health care expenses for workers. Commissioners blame President Obama's health care plan, including its specific mandates for coverage of pre-existing medical conditions, extensions of coverage for older dependents and the removal of caps on maximum lifetime dollar amounts for certain medical procedures.
Another expense on the rise is the cost to fund attorneys for indigent court defendants. The county doled out $137,155 in 2009 for public defender fees. Costs have risen about 14 percent this year and are expected to continue to climb with less subsidies from the state, commissioners said.
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