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Challenges seen ahead for Geauga budget
Challenges seen ahead for Geauga budget
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
While Geauga County faces challenging economic times, like much of the country, county Auditor Frank Gliha said experienced officials and a conservative approach will get the county through it.
"The tunnel is dark, but we have great officials who will lead the county forward so we can make it through the tunnel in 2012 and beyond," Mr. Gliha said.
The comment was part of his "State of Geauga" address last week at a session of the Geauga County Commissioners.
The address presented an overall picture of the county and its finances as it moves forward.
Mr. Gliha began by presenting the national picture, which shows the country now with approximately $13 trillion in debt. He said that represents more than 90 percent of the gross domestic product.
To put those figures into perspective, Mr. Gliha gave an example of what $1 trillion will buy. "One trillion dollars today would allow you to buy Coca Cola, Apple, IBM, Bank of America, Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Motorola, AT&T as well as Exxon Mobil and still have enough left over to live comfortably on just the interest from the billions left over."
He said, unless the county maintains a 3 percent economic growth rate, college and high school students will not be able to find jobs here when they are ready to look.
The county's general fund for this year is $25,460,657, while all other funds total $73,773,044. The county has trimmed 7.3 percent from expenses, or about $4 million, Mr. Gliha said.
Revenues for this year thus far have reached $2,844,870. That represents an increase of 8.49 percent over 2010 which showed $2,622,221 but a decrease from 2008 of 23.41 percent.
He said those numbers are a far cry from the "glory days" of the county when it saw revenues increase by $3,714,281 in 2008.
A similar picture can be seen with sales tax collections. He said they brought in $1,765,656 in 2011, a 5.77 percent increase over last year. But that still falls short of the $1,851,647 brought in 2008.
"We need some more big-box stores," Mr. Gliha said, explaining that those types of stores in Chardon, Middlefield and Bainbridge boosted the county's income.
The county is seeing a significant drop in the amount of money the Geauga County Safety Center was getting for housing inmates. What once produced $2 million in annual revenues is now providing only $14,856. That means the county must find the rest of the money to offset the $726,420 cost of operating the jail.
In terms of unemployment, the county is faring better than most, Mr. Gliha said. "We're doing very well compared to the rest of the country," he said.
But, he said, if the last recession is any indication, the county could be waiting a while to recover. He said the county's unemployment rate in December 2010 was 7.7 percent, about the same as it was in 1981. It took until 1989, he said, to see the number drop to about 4.3 percent. "There is hope in about seven more years," he said.
The number of new homes built has also slid since the economy tanked, he said. In 2010, the county saw 73 new homes built, he said. From the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, the county saw an average of 401 homes built each year.
Mr. Gliha urged officials to look at the vacant land available. There are approximately 69,000 acres of vacant land in the county, he said. He said about 65,970 of those acres are residential-agriculture and the remaining 3,452 acres are commercial-industrial.
"We can no longer do business as usual," he said. He said officials need to take on projects that are only "highly profitable" to the county. "We need people to come into Geauga County and build."
Mr. Gliha said the county will be able to survive until 2015 if revenues hold out. But, he said, if expenses go up, the county will likely have to adjust its spending.
Those costs, however, have been rising steadily. Mr. Gliha presented some numbers to show the rising cost of products since 2008. In 2008, a loaf of bread cost $1.68. Today the bread costs $2.78, or a 65.5 percent increase. A 12-pack of water was $1.90 and is now $2.63, he said. A pound of tomatoes was 68 cents, while today they cost $1.09. Gasoline has seen a 6.08 percent increase from $3.29 to $3.49, he said.
"We need to be more conservative with spending, if that's possible," Mr. Gliha said.
Another challenge will be dealing with decreasing support from the state. Local government funds, which provided an average of $1.12 million annually for the county in recent years is expected to be phased out. He said estimates for state funding are expected to drop to $1.056 million this year, $834,000 next year and $538,000 the following year. By 2015, the funding may disappear entirely, he said.
Denise Kaminski, clerk of courts for Geauga Common Pleas, said the county sends a good deal of money to Columbus, but rarely sees it returned. "If we could keep our own money, we'd be in much better shape," she said.
Mr. Gliha also promised to challenge the 2010 Census, saying it fell short of the actual count of residents. He said the latest count showed a population of 93,389, compared to 90,895 in 2000. He said he believes the actual count should be closer to 100,000. "I'm going to challenge it. I think they're wrong."
Sally Bell, director of Geauga County Department on Aging, said census numbers are often used to determine the amount of state and federal aid that counties receive. A higher count would bring more state and federal dollars for the county's programs.
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