Clark County Commission, Courts battle over budget cuts

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Clark County departments cut $1.8M from their budgets

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The Clark County Domestic, Juvenile and Common Pleas Court are refusing to cut more than 3% from their 2020 budgets after being asked to cut at least 10% — a measure they are enforcing via a court order to the Board of Clark County Commissioners.

The commission announced it would be cutting $4.7 million from its general fund budget in mid-April in anticipation of sales tax revenue losses due to COVID-19.

The commission said savings would be realized through things like furloughing more than 50 employees for two weeks, implementing an immediate hiring freeze, placing a freeze on all capital improvement projects, providing no training, travel or educational reimbursements and asking officials to review budgets to determine where other cuts could occur.

The commission approached all county officials and asked them to voluntarily cut or reduce their expenses by at least 10% of their budgets at the end of April, Commission President Melanie Flax Wilt said.

The auditor’s office, recorder’s office, Probate Court, Clerk of Courts, sheriff’s office, coroner’s office and the engineer’s office all agreed to a 10% cut. The prosecutor’s office agreed to an 8.5% cut and the treasurer’s office 5%.

MORE FROM RILEY NEWTON: Clark County departments cut $1.8M from their budgets

The Domestic and Juvenile Court agreed to a 3% cut and the Common Pleas Court settled on cutting 2% from its budget. As a way to ensure the commission would not cut more than that from their budgets, the court served Flax Wilts, Commissioner Lowell McGlothin, Commissioner Richard Lohnes and county administrator Jennifer Hutchingson with a court order.

“The Board of Clark County Commissioners; the Clark County Administrator; and the Clark County Auditor shall be and are herewith strictly prohibited from taking any action not authorized by this Court to reduce the operating budget of the Clark County Common Pleas Court, General Division, for the fiscal year 2020,” the court order said.

The commissioners discussed their, “frustrations” with the courts during the board’s weekly meeting on Wednesday morning.

“I’m very frustrated. I think that we have been proactive and thoughtful in how we have analyzed our potential losses,” Flax Wilt said. “This is a strange time and everyone needs to be a part of figuring out a solution instead of digging our heels in and saying no.”

The Springfield News-Sun reached out to Administrative and Presiding Judge Thomas Capper about the commissioners’ comments and the court order and did not receive a response.

Capper said previously that the courts did not cut more than the three and two percent because the court returns money to the county’s general fund throughout “the course of each fiscal year.”

One example of these returns includes a federal IV-D contact, which will return $112,514 into the county’s general fund in 2020, Capper said.

Flax Wilt said that’s misleading.

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“Every department returns money,” Flax Wilt said. “That’s not what we are talking about. Those are line item revenues. What we are looking at here is expense line items.”

Commissioner Richard Lohnes said the county has spoken with Capper about the cuts twice — once on April 28, the day after the commissioners were served with the order, and on Tuesday.

“I told him I thought this was petty,” Lohnes said.

Capper told the News-Sun two days after the April 28 meeting that it was his understanding that “we had resolved our issues with the county commission concerning the funding of the court.”

Flax Wilt said that’s not the case — and added she feels as though the commission’s “hands are tied” because of the court order.

“Our job is to oversee the budget. I guess I feel like our hands are tied. When someone shows up with a court order at my house saying you can’t cut our budget, then wants to set up a meeting the next day, that’s not corporation. That’s ‘here is our answer’,” Flax Wilt said.

Flax Wilt said Lohnes said they are concerned about the disagreement as counties across the state are forced to consider even more budget cuts after Gov. Mike DeWine announced on May 5 there would be $775 million in state budget cuts through the end of June.

“If we are here, and we are having these conversations when we ask for 10%, what happens if we ask for 20% or 25%,” Flax Wilt said.

Lack of budget cuts could mean the county could be forced to dip into their roughly $6.3 million rainy day fund, Lohnes said. The commission said late last month they would be pulling about $1 million from the fund.

If that fund is drained, it could mean cuts to things like the amount of funding for the sheriff’s office which could mean fewer deputies on the streets, Lohnes said.

“When there is no money, there is no money,” Lohnes said. “Where are we going to take it from?”

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