The Highland County Board of Commissioners may be faced with some hard decisions during budget talks this year — all circulating around a projected $800,000 gap left by the removal of Medicaid-funded Managed Care Organization tax revenue.
As previously reported by The Times-Gazette, the commissioners learned last summer that the federal government will no longer allow sales taxes on Medicaid-funded MCOs, resulting in substantial revenue losses for both the state and the county.
Board president Shane Wilkin said Wednesday that the Ohio House of Representatives’ version of the state budget bill provides the county with a lump sum payment to cover revenue losses through the end of the year, although the State Senate’s version, which is expected to come to vote this week, makes no such arrangements.
The commissioners agreed to send a letter to representatives urging them to take action on the matter, and Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley said his office would send a similar letter.
Fawley told The Times-Gazette that if the budget passes without amendments, the commissioners may have to make dramatic cuts in some departments.
“It’ll be a matter of the commissioners sitting down and looking at every line item,” he said. “We’ve been through this before, and it’s not fun… There will be some offices you can’t hit very much, but there are others that aren’t so safety-oriented. The commissioners’ first priority is safety,” mainly the sheriff’s office and courts.
“We hope we don’t get to that point,” he said.
Fawley said during Wednesday’s commissioner meeting that the commissioners would have to cut the budget back to where it was in 2004.
“You’ve had increases since then, and the cost of everything has gone up,” he said. “It makes it very difficult… This can get to be very serious.”
Fawley said the county’s sales tax revenue has been higher recently than in previous years, and will making up part of the loss.
“It’s very good, it’s a good number,” Fawley said. “We’re very pleased with what the sales tax is doing in the county, because it’s basically what we depend on for the budget.”
Fawley estimated about $6 million of the county’s total $10 million budget comes from sales tax revenues. Even then, though, cuts will have to be made, according to Fawley.
In other business, Mowrystown Mayor Frank Terwilliger attended the meeting, requesting a status update on Community Development Block Grant funds awarded for upgrading the electrical system at the county’s wastewater treatment plant in the area.
As reported previously by The Times-Gazette, Mowrystown was awarded $51,000 in CDBG funding to perform upgrades on the system, which doesn’t have enough power to keep the pumps running correctly.
Wilkin said the board would obtain more information on the matter.
Terwilliger also said the original plan was that Buford and two other municipalities in the area would utilize the plant’s wastewater treatment services, but never did.
Fawley said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency did not mandate that those municipalities join with Mowrystown for the services.
Terwilliger said he would like to facilitate more communication on the matter.
Also Wednesday, commissioner Jeff Duncan applauded Kim Davis of FRS Counseling for her efforts coordinating the recent Hope Over Heroin event at the Highland County Fairground.
“It was definitely a county-wide effort,” he said. “It was very well received.”
Wilkin said he had the opportunity to swear in Paul Pence as a new board member on the Highland County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
The commissioners also conducted a viewing and hearing on the vacation of an alley in New Market, and passed routine financial resolutions. Wilkin and commissioner Terry Britton congratulated Duncan on 37 years of marriage.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.