ST. CLAIRSVILLE During last week's meeting of the Belmont County Commissioners, County Auditor Andrew Sutak was asked to explain the state of county finances and the need to meet mounting expenses with limited and decreasing funds.
Sutak responded to questions by Pease Township Trustee Michael Bianconi, who inquired about increases in sales tax and if it might be used for the purpose of road and bridge repair.
Sutak said the county runs on a projected revenue budget based on prior years. He confirmed that the county has so far seen a total increase of $400,000 in sales tax. However interest rates have significantly decreased from $2.3 million to about $600,000.
In addition, local government funds have decreased by half a million.
"Sales tax is up. That's what's keeping us pretty much afloat," he said, adding that while the county has some excess money at the end of the year, it is necessary to make a half million carryover balance for the first two months of the new year for cash flow. The county also places some excess sales tax money into insurance, since they cannot know how much insurance will go up until May and June when the insurance committee investigates.
Other expenses include the jail and the satellite building at Eastern Division Court.
Any extra funds beyond that may be spent on other projects. Sutak added that the county may look forward to receiving oil and gas revenues. However, although two wells have recently begun flowing and two more are upcoming, the lien date depends on when extraction begins.
"We won't probably get taxes till 2015. Taxes are always a year behind," he said.
A guest noted a significant increase in country residents' tax bills and inquired about the budget allocation process. Sutak said the county used projections. He said the general fund's portion of inside millage is 2.3 mills, with the majority from diverse levies. Also, the closing of power and steel plants have meant a decrease of revenues and valuations that have offset other increases.
Sutak reminded guests that even during more prosperous times in the county, when the sales tax and interest was high, Belmont was also collecting personal property tax.
"There's no personal property tax. We lost millions," he said. "Schools are taking a beating because there's no personal property."
He added that townships are also feeling an impact from the lack of reimbursement. Other sources of revenue cannot be predicted.
Sutak added that his door is open should anyone wish to discuss the issues further.
DeFrank can be reached at email@example.com