By Sean Rice
Ohio Gov. Bob Taft's proposal to cut back local government support money could have a significant effect on local entities, but Mercer County's auditor is hopeful the state Legislature will protect the smallest of governments.
In Taft's recently released budget proposal for 2006-2007, the three local government funds were cut 20 percent for counties and cities, 10 percent for villages and townships and 5 percent for libraries.
Libraries in Rockford, Coldwater, Fort Recovery, and the Mercer County libraries in Celina, Chickasaw and St. Henry receive nearly all operational funding from the state support.
For 2005, the local libraries are budgeted to split up $1,583,082 in library assistance money from the state. If 5 percent is removed, the libraries would have nearly $80,000 less than expected.
A 10 percent reduction to funding for townships and villages would have varying effects because the funds are not awarded equally. The Mercer County Budget Commission determines the funding breakdown, typically based on population. In Coldwater, $160,793 is budgeted to be collected from two local government funds in 2005. A 10 percent reduction would equate to $16,000. In Rockford, the 2005 budget amount is $57,531. So a 10 percent cut could mean $5,700 less for the village.
In Celina, $486,539 is budgeted to come from the state in 2005. A 20 percent reduction for Celina would mean a loss of $97,318.
The county general fund typically keeps more than 40 percent of all local government money. In 2005, $958,209 of the state money is budgeted for Mercer County. A 20 percent reduction would mean a loss of $191,640.
Mercer County Auditor Mark Giesige reduced the county's estimated revenue for this year in anticipation of a local government cut. That action forced the general fund budget to go down. The reduction would create a surplus balance for financial security next year.
If the state Legislature buys into Taft's proposals, the county already is somewhat prepared due to Giesige reducing income projections last year. But the hope for a surplus in the county budget would be gone.
"It's still a long way from June, and a lot could happen between now and then," Giesige said.
The auditor said state spending has been running rampant for 10 years, and higher-ups continue to look to local governments for cash.
The local government funds were steadily increasing each year at about the inflation rate, until 2001, when the funds were frozen. All the county's libraries in 2001 split up $1,679,253 in state support. With Taft's reductions, that figure drops to about $1,503,000 this year.
Giesige said county spending has been at or below the inflation rate for 10 years. At the state level, spending has increased 7 percent to 10 percent each year.
"Before they cut us anymore, they should start cleaning their own house," Giesige said. "I'm sure Sen. (Jim) Jordan and Rep. (Keith) Faber won't allow our local government money to be cut."