County leaders spar over raises, parks

Uncertainty over casino money, sales tax prompts caution from Commissioner Lohnes

Commissioner Rick Lohnes, a Republican, opposed any funding for the National Trail Parks and Recreation District and said he didn’t think the county could afford the raises for non-union workers.

Administrator Nathan Kennedy presented commissioners with a preview of a $37.4 million general fund budget that’s up about $1 million from the 2012 budget. The overall 2013 budget is up slightly too at about $155 million, but he said uncertainties loom because of potential local government fund cuts by state lawmakers and the expiration of a half-percent sales tax that brings in about $7 million annually.

Kennedy advised commissioners to support the raises to avoid employee morale problems.

“If you don’t give the 2 percent raises, it will cause morale and other issues among the ranks, which will cause bigger problems down the road,” Kennedy said. “This doesn’t catch them up (with union employees), it just keeps the inequity from getting worse.”

The raises, supported by commissioners John Detrick and David Hartley, would be the second in as many years for employees and would cost the county about $220,000. The county employs 1,200 people, of which about 230 are non-union.

Employees received raises in the 2012 budget but prior to that had not been given raises since 2008.

“We’ve only given them one raise in the last five years, and the cost of living has gone up,” Detrick, a Republican, said, adding that commissioners also recently voted to increase employee health insurance costs.

Lohnes opposed giving county employees raises this year and is against an increase for 2013, saying he fears state cuts as well as the expiration or reduction of the half-percent sales tax could strain the budget.

“We did a 2 percent raise last year. I think we need to plan for losing all or some of the sales tax,” Lohnes said.

While Kennedy projects the county could receive $720,000 in casino revenue, Lohnes said it would do little to cushion the financial blow of losing funds from the sales tax.

The sales tax in Clark County totals 7 percent, including the controversial temporary half-percent county commissioners voted unanimously in February 2011 to extend for 30 months. The half-percent expires in late 2013.

Kennedy said he would likely recommend commissioners extend the half-percent tax.

“We’re going to have to wait and see what the casinos bring in and wait and see what the state of Ohio does. My recommendation would probably be to continue the sales tax one way or another. But until I get more data, we’re going to have to wait and see,” Kennedy said.

Commissioners disagreed on funding for the National Trail Parks and Recreation District, which lost $280,000 annually in funding from the county a few years ago.

Last year, Detrick and Democrat Hartley agreed to give the organization $80,000, but they are currently far apart on a figure for 2013. Hartley wants to give NTPRD $240,000, while Detrick said wants to give the organization $38,000.

Lohnes again opposes funding the organization, saying NTPRD doesn’t need additional money.

He said voters recently approved a 0.6-mill, 5-year tax levy for NTPRD and the Clark County Park District. The levy will generate $390,000 for the park district and $1 million for NTPRD.

The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s Community Improvement Corporation requested $12,000 to maintain the National Road Commons park the organization developed, but all three commissioners balked on Tuesday, saying they agreed to fund them last year and would not provide additional funds.

Lohnes and Detrick, however, do support funding the Dayton Development Coalition, an economic development group in which Clark County and the city of Springfield are members. Hartley has not committed to that.

The coalition received $8,000 last year and Detrick hopes officials agree to increase funding for the group to $10,000.

Detrick cited the group’s efforts to make the region a center for unmanned aircraft technology development and pilot training, which creates an environment for new jobs.

“We want to continue to keep a voice for Clark County in the Miami Valley,” Detrick said.

In other business, commissioners voted 2-1 to spend less than $50,000 to hire an architect from Poggemeyer Design Group to study building renovation needs for the Springview Government Center to make way for tenants in the county agricultural building, including the OSU Extension office.

Early estimates suggest the move — excluding the extension center gardens — could cost $500,000 to more than $700,000.

Kennedy said estimates to move the gardens range from $259,000 to $1.8 million, but commissioners Detrick and Lohnes said officials didn’t need to discuss moving the extension office or their gardens because extension isn’t moving and the gardens aren’t moving in 2013.

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