SIDNEY – The 2021 Shelby County budget includes an increase to the unanticipated emergency fund and the creation of a budget stabilization fund, which will help the county respond to issues that could arise throughout the year.
The commissioners appropriated $255,000 to the unanticipated emergency fund, which is up 19.7% compared to last year. They also appropriated $250,000 to the newly created budget stabilization fund.
“Things are so iffy,” Commissioner Julie Ehemann said of the reason why the commissioners increased their spending in those funds.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how much income and expenses Shelby County will have this year. The commissioners worked with the county auditor, prosecutor and treasurer to make their projections but said some guesswork was required.
With low interest rates, the commissioners anticipate interest earned will drop $430,000 compared to 2020. They also expect casino revenue to decline, funding from the state government to drop, and they have a lot of uncertainty about sales tax revenue.
“We were fortunate last year,” Commissioner Tony Bornhorst said. “I think people did home improvements, et cetera, instead of taking vacations, and that helped offset our loss in the hospitality industry.”
While tax revenue from home improvements helped in 2020, the commissioners aren’t sure they can count on that revenue source this year.
To account for the uncertainty, the commissioners are maintaining flexibility by putting money into the budget stabilization fund and the unanticipated emergency fund. With those funds, the county will have the ability to redirect money as needed.
“In the unanticipated, we have dollars there to give us some leeway in between any one of these line item budgets to make adjustments as the year goes on,” Bornhorst said.
As an example of the flexibility, the commissioners appropriated $351,438 to the Board of Elections, which is down more than $30,000 from last year’s appropriations and $82,570 less than the board’s 2021 budget request.
The Board of Elections’ budget request accounted for a worst-case scenario, which would include hosting a special election throughout the county in August. A countywide special election is highly unlikely and fewer voters are expected to participate in the off-year elections, the commissioners concluded, so they appropriated a lower amount of money to the Board of Elections.
“Once we appropriate dollars into an expense code, we cannot take it away from you, whether it be elected officials, a department or whatever,” Bornhorst said. “The only way those dollars come back to us is at the end of the year and the carryout or carryover.
“Once those dollars are appropriated, they’re locked in, and that gives us less leeway.”
By not committing to the Board of Elections’ full request, the commissioners can maintain flexibility with county funds. If the board would need more funding than it was appropriated, the commissioners could redirect money from the unanticipated emergency fund or budget stabilization fund to cover the additional expenses.
“The other thing you’ve got to realize here, too, there’s actually $20,000 more in that budget than what they spent all of last year in the presidential election,” Bornhorst said. “So the dollars are there to do the election correctly and fairly.”
Along with the Board of Elections, the sheriff’s Sex Offender Registration & Notification appropriations decreased 50% to $2,500, the Regional Planning Commission appropriations decreased 4.9% to $26,625, and the census appropriations dropped from $8,110.32 to $0. The county’s census responsibilities are finished so it doesn’t have to fund them while the other decreases were a result of lower requests this year.
One of the largest increases this year was for coroner appropriations, which increased 17.3% to $150,107.88. That’s a result of increased autopsies.
“It was a rough year for mental health and overdoses,” Ehemann said.
The Veterans Relief Donation Fund, which is funded by donations instead of tax dollars, increased 61.8% to $17,377.84.
“Even though it was a trying year this past year, they have tried to really reach out to our veterans and to let them know what services are and connects well with folks,” Bornhorst said.
Since 2019, the Veterans Relief Donation Fund has increased more than 700%.
“I think (Executive Director) Chris (North) has done a great job in advocating for the Veterans Services,” Ehemann said.
Elected officials received a 2% salary increase this year, as per Senate Bill 296 that the state government passed in 2018.
The commissioners provided general fund employees with a one-time pay adjustment for 2021 in lieu of salary increases. That’s a way for them to reward employees without committing to salary increases in 2022 and beyond.
“We’re always looking when we give employees raises on how it affects us in upcoming years and whether it’s something that we can sustain,” Ehemann said.
Overall the county appropriations increased from $73,612,111.63 to $79,755,579.77, an increase of 8.3%. Most of the appropriations are determined by the state government.
The commissioners have some local control of the general fund appropriations, which increased 16.8% from $19,421,769.47 to $22,691,226.95.
Most of the general fund budget increase can be attributed to Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act contributions from the federal government. Without the CARES Act funds, the general budget growth would amount to a 4.1% increase compared to 2020.
The commissioners said they will continue pushing the state government for more funding, including indigent defense reimbursements that have been cut in Columbus.
“We’re going to be pushing hard to get that opened back up,” Ehemann said. “They had allocated so many millions of dollars and cut it back like 20%. So we’re not getting reimbursed for services that we have to provide.”
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