SIDNEY – Amid the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Shelby County government officials are making adjustments and preparing for the many challenges they’ll have to face.
One of the challenges Shelby County Commissioners Tony Bornhorst, Julie Ehemann and Bob Guillozet know they’ll soon encounter, just like businesses and individuals around the world, is increased budget constraints.
“We do know that our revenues are going to dive dramatically with sales tax revenue,” Ehemann said. “There will be no casino revenue.”
Sales tax has been the top revenue generator for Shelby County. Earlier this year, the commissioners estimated the county would take in approximately $5.8 million in sales tax revenue in 2020, but now they’re unsure of how much it will receive.
“Your guess is going to be as good as ours,” Bornhorst said.
The commissioners also realize some residents might not be able to pay their property taxes as millions of Americans have lost their jobs and the global economy enters a recession.
“Those are all going to play a factor in that revenue loss,” Bornhorst said.
The last time the economy had a major downturn, the 2008 Great Recession, Shelby County was able to save money by cutting hours government employees worked and eliminating funding to entities. However, those cuts still remain in place and thus the county doesn’t have as many opportunities to reduce expenses this time.
The commissioners have started looking at some projects they wanted to fund this year that most likely won’t proceed.
“We’ve been very careful with money so we’re not overextended in any fashion,” Ehemann said. “But there were things we were hopeful to do that will just be put on the back burner.”
Other projects, such as the prisoner intake area at the jail and electrical upgrades at the courthouse square, will continue as work already is underway and contracts must be honored.
Along with decreased revenues, the commissioners also expect some expenses to increase. For example, Ohio moving to a vote-by-mail primary election will increase costs.
“We’re hopeful that the state is going to help reimburse some of those expenses,” Guillozet said.
Decisions by the state and federal governments will affect how Shelby County officials respond to many of the issues they face.
The commissioners were considering ways they could address medical leave and unemployment when the federal government passed its $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill. They’ve since had to adjust their plans and try to figure out how the bill will affect Shelby County.
“The bill is passed but then it becomes all the fine print after that,” Bornhorst said. “We’re trying to stay on top of it.”
The commissioners have communicated with federal officials including Rep. Jim Jordan, Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Rob Portman. They’re also working with state officials to seek assistance, provide local updates and offer potential solutions.
There’s also lots of ongoing discussions with other groups such as the Emergency Management Agency and Wilson Health that last late into the night and commence early in the morning.
“It’s just a lot of information to just keep going through,” Bornhorst said. “My bowl of cereal in the morning revolves around reading emails.”
Shelby County has taken many precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus such as having some county employees work from home, restricting access to buildings and delaying non-essential events such as minor court cases.
“It seems to be working out, and we’re trying to keep services open to the residents,” Guillozet said.
Some jobs can’t be done remotely, though, such as staffing the jail. And cybersecurity measures require some employees, including in the Auditor’s Office, to be in the office to access computer programs and servers.
Also, other vital services must continue such as some Job and Family Services home visits.
For now, the commissioners think Shelby County is well positioned to deal with the effects of the pandemic.
“In the short term, we’re probably better off than a lot of (counties),” Guillozet said. “If this thing is extended, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.”
The commissioners are collaborating with groups including the Shelby County Community Foundation and the United Way to establish funds for COVID-19 relief. And 211 remains available to help residents obtain information about government services, health and mental health resources, employment support and more.
“It’s not one of those things to feel ashamed to reach out and ask for help,” Bornhorst said. “We need to rely on each other.”
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