January 24, 2022

Acqua NYC

Fit And Go Forward

Butler County commissioners ponder 2021 budget in the face of COVID-19

“When we look at our budget in several years, look back at 2020 and 2021, 2020 obviously because of the pandemic is an outlier and 2021 because a significant amount of the CARES funding recompensed the general fund, artificially inflates the resources for 2021,” Boyko said.

When Boyko gave the commissioners a preview of the budget last week she did not include the CARES allocations. The total budget for all funds is $395.5 million in expenditures versus $381 million in revenues. Non-general fund users, like Children Services and others with their own levies tap into reserves to balance their budgets.

Commissioner Don Dixon, who attended the meeting virtually — his first in a month as he has been battling virus himself — said they need to push more money to getting residents and economy healthy.

“We have to keep our eye on the budget, but there has to be more money pushed to fighting the COVID issue and helping our small businesses stay here and get reestablished,” Dixon said. “That carryover fund, we may see using that as a lifeline for the COVID damage to our economy.”

ExploreHow coronavirus changed Butler County’s $98M spending proposal for 2021

Dixon told the Journal-News the county needs to focus first on facilitating getting people vaccinated, possibly adding to the $6 million testing and vaccination. He said they need to put resources into mental health for all the people traumatized and displaced by the pandemic and then find a way to get people retrained for the current economy.

“Obviously we don’t need waitresses, they need to be able to be in the health field to deliver services,” Dixon said. “That’s the basis for the next 20 years. We’ve got to somehow do a more inclusive job, we’ve got a bigger job right now. It was a narrow group before, it’s a huge group now.”

Boyko had proposed early on a jobs program that brings job seekers and vocational schools together to get people matched with the new normal job market. Boyko’s pilot jobs program had a very preliminary price tag of $750,000.

Dixon said he would be willing to consider tapping the money they are saving on debt payments, the rest of the CARES money and the money allotted for capital improvements to tackle the myriad of problems the pandemic caused.

For years many capital improvement plans have been on the back burner, like the Historic Courthouse, which a new study says needs $4.6 million worth of work. In the past couple years the commissioners have allotted a couple million dollars. Boyko said the various offices and departments requested $7.2 million worth of projects and purchases, 57.1% were for facility improvements. She told the Journal-News she has not made specific recommendations on projects.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter has long advocated fixing the iconic structure.

“The building is deteriorating and the sooner that we put the money in it the less money we’ll have to put in it in the long run,” Carpenter said during the meeting. She could not be reached for comment on Dixon’s idea about using capital funds for COVID.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said Dixon’s ideas have merit, but he must reserve judgment on more cash outlays to the vaccination program until they have more guidance on how the effort will be conducted statewide. He agrees more healthcare workers are needed, but building tradesmen are also scarce. He said they need to take things as they come.

“This year has showed us that we can’t just reach a certain point and then we maintain that certain point,” Rogers said. “Events are going to come up that are going to change the whole culture.”