SIDNEY — Slicing the 2022 Shelby County budget three ways when analyzing the data can provide not just an overview of big picture changes, or major line-item changes, but — new this year — category assessments.
1 – The big picture overview: A bottom line comparison
The future looks brighter. Last year’s bottom line budget totaled roughly $79.8 million. This year’s total budget will increase by about $29.2 million to total just over $109 million.
2 – Big ticket line-item changes: Two new projects will begin in 2022
The USDA awarded Shelby County Sewer District a large grant, that, in combination with a loan, will be used for the reconstruction of one of its wastewater treatment plants. The $13 million project will consume most of the nearly $14.6 million allocated to the Sewer District’s budget for 2022. Construction is expected to begin this spring.
“For the last five years, we’ve been under orders by the EPA to improve the Lake Loramie wastewater treatment plant. The overflow has been exceeding the capacity of the plant so that the treatment is not 100%,” said Shelby County Engineer Robert Geuy. Geuy said it was a lengthy process to get plans approved by the EPA and USDA, and that, along with the application process, took around two years before coming up with the funds to update the plant. Geuy said the grant is thanks to the efforts of the Shelby County Commissioners, the Village of Fort Loramie, Geuy and the rest of the Shelby County Engineer’s Office, as well as their consulting company, Jones & Henry Engineers, based in Toledo.
Shelby County will receive nearly $9 million from the The American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds.
“We could expend $8.9 million in this coming year,” said Commissioner Tony Bornhorst. “I don’t expect us to do that, though, because we are trying to do our best due diligence to spend the ARPA dollars on long-term projects that benefit all of Shelby County.”
3 – Meeting community needs: Budgetary categories
The budgetary allocation can be interpreted in two ways in terms of intent of the Commissioners.
First, monies can simply become available or an increase in spending may have been beyond their control. For example, windfall federal funding determined at the national level, state allocations, successful grant applications by nonprofits, and so on, indicate there may have been no particular intent or effort per se on the Commissioners’ behalf to seek funds that nevertheless became available for use. Alternately, there may have been other issues of importance that went unaddressed despite efforts. For example, some grant efforts may not have been fruitful. Or inflationary costs associated with supply chain distribution due to COVID-19 and other factors may have forced unwanted increases in spending that were unavoidable.
Second, Commissioners’ decisions were made, and their efforts were successfully undertaken, to dedicate funds to ameliorate specific and pressing community needs.
In either case, a comparative analysis of annual monies going to specific categories for spending impacts the quality of services in the community and are worth close analysis and explanation.
During calendar year 2021, relevant categories of service receiving funding (from most to least funding) were community services, infrastructure, public safety, healthcare services, and executive and finance. Community services, strictly considered, had about $30 million dollars, comprising nearly half of that year’s total budget of roughly $80 million. Of note, the largest allocation of funding, about $4.7 million, went to Job and Family Services, and approximately $3 million went to children (Children’s Services and Child Support Enforcement). Likewise, out of the general fund, just over $600,000 was allocated for veterans and $115,00 to welfare grants. In the 2021 budget, the Veterans Relief Fund (VRF) had a 700% increase since 2019. The 2022 budget shows VRF donations match the previous year’s amount, plus an additional $24,000.
In healthcare services, allocation of funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, in which states were allocated federal dollars that had to be disbursed that calendar year to local communities and spent on related needs arising from COVID-19, Shelby County received nearly $2.5 million from the CARES Act. All of it was successfully distributed in the county to address COVID-19-related community needs. A nearly equal sum, $2.5 million, was allocated to covering insurance, pensions, and taxes.
Among executive and finance issues, planning for uncertainty by budgeting in “flexibility” was the focus of last year’s budget analysis by the Sidney Daily News. Anticipating a drop in interest rates, the Commissioners appropriated $255,000 in additional monies to the unanticipated emergency fund and $250,000 to a newly created budget stabilization fund.
Calendar year 2022, by comparison, will have money going to different areas that will impact the quality of community services. Relevant categories of service receiving funding (from most to least funding) are infrastructure, public safety, healthcare services, community services, and executive and finance.
In addition to the major Lake Loramie wastewater treatment plant infrastructure project, this year the infrastructure will have an approximate $1.9 million increase for road and infrastructure and $1.5 million increase for capital improvements.
A budget is an estimate of spending, not an accounting of exact monies spent or reserved for spending. The County Engineer’s Office receives its operating revenues from three major sources: license plate registration fees, gasoline tax at the pump, and a quarter percent sales tax through the County Commissioners. Anticipating a projected decrease in revenues due to COVID in 2020 and 2021, Geuy budgeted accordingly. However, gas and license plate taxes unexpectedly stayed stable in 2020-2021. As a result, those additional monies allocated to the 2022 budget were actually “a two-year carry over” to this year’s budget, Geuy explained.
The ditch maintenance fund is allocated an additional $147,000 this year. These funds come from “private dollars off of real estate taxes to manage about 150 miles of open ditch and about 5o miles of tiles and waterways,” Geuy said.
Discussions at the federal level for large increases in infrastructure spending have not yet materialized, and are therefore not calculated into the budget. Should that legislation be passed, and monies allocated, infrastructure could see an even greater “win” this year and possibly beyond.
This year, with an increase of about $20.5 million, infrastructure projects will become of paramount importance, as a major sewer project will be undertaken. Specifically, items classified as infrastructure include land, buildings, roads, bridges, sewers, and these types of projects.
“We hope to have a pretty robust construction season,” said Geuy. In terms of any additional federal infrastructure dollars, Geuy said his office is following that very closely through their county engineers’ association but are not sure as to when or how much money might be coming to Shelby County from that political initiative. Geuy said that due to the increased cost of asphalt, roadway resurfacing would be at the top of his list should additional infrastructure monies arrive this year, along with road widening and safety improvements.
Public safety services will have the funding available to address high priority needs more fully, particularly the Sheriff’s Office, which is allocated nearly an additional $500,000, and the Prosecutor’s Office, which is allocated just over an additional $100,000 for 2022. The prosecutor’s office includes salaries for five lawyers, a legal assistant, a financial officer, Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) contributions, contracted services, and so on. Overall, public safety funding will have an additional $18.6 million compared with 2021, jumping from about $11.4 million to $30 million in 2022. Specifically, the public defender’s office is allocated an additional $58,404 in 2022. To maintain qualified and experienced public safety employees, it is necessary to remain competitive in terms of salaries, Bornhorst explained, saying they recently lost two officers to other counties that paid more; therefore, the Commissioners provided a 5% salary increase for general fund employees.
Healthcare services will see an additional $6.8 million in 2022. Healthcare services for both years include items classified as medical, EMS, and EMA. CARES applies only to 2021 and ARPA applies only to 2022.
Community services saw a dramatic decline in funding this year — nearly $18.5 million less allocated to these services in the budget compared with last year. The category of community service in some instances in the budget’s line-item descriptions overlaps the annual budget overlaps with public service, and in these cases, the funding for both 2021 and 2022 is classified as public service rather than community services, strictly speaking.
While executive and finance continues to be fiscally managed — it ranks as the lowest category of expenditures overall again this year — there will be an increase of just over $1.7 million allocated in the budget, gaining in dollar value roughly the revenue community services, strictly speaking, lost.