Warren County 2019 budget debate lingers

We’re over a week into 2019 and the Warren County Commissioners are still arguing about the 2019 budget.

And the arguments look a lot like arguments that have unfolded in prior meetings over the last month.

Before the board on Wednesday was the requirement to set the millage rate for the year.

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said the form up for approval sets the rate at 21.5 mills and said that the budget was based on maintaining the rate at 21.5. That includes one mill of dedicated bond debt that was converted to general millage in the wake of the county paying off the bond.

“The bottom line, the important fact for taxpayers to know,” Kafferlin said, is that the total amount of tax to be paid in 2019 is the same as 2018.

“What he’s saying,” Commissioner Cindy Morrison said, “(is that you are) going to pay the same amount. You would have had a tax break with that millage (for bond debt) going away.”

Morrison presented the history of the bond debt and said that the “required funds” were available to pay off the bond in December, suggesting that it was former Fiscal Director Judy Albaugh’s idea to do so.

Morrison said the county “no longer has the right” to collect dedicated bond debt millage and noted that the “commissioners are required to officially state the property tax millage for the new year. This is what we’re doing today.”

She again described it as an “increase in general property tax millage from 20.5 to 21.5.

“That’s the facts of the matter,” said Morrison. “You are seeing a tax increase. You are not seeing a tax refund.”

Kafferlin described it as a “reallocation of resources” and “not a tax increase.”

After a short spat about who voted for what in 2018, Commissioner Jeff Eggleston acknowledged that it is “very easy to frame” the issue as Morrison suggested. “I can understand how Commissioner Morrison might do that.

The original bond pertained to courthouse renovations and Eggleston noted that “the funds that were being used for debt service was for maintenance on this building. They were costs to the county. There are other costs to the county and that’s what the” reallocated millage will be used for.

Eggleston said that he has “never once” had a written proposal on how to cut taxes to 20.5 mills from Commissioner Morrison.

He said he is “assuming that’s because it would require actual work.”

He has previously indicated that Morrison only works approximately two hours a week.

On Wednesday, he continued that attack line.

“What all of you are doing is paying her $500 per hour to come to these public meetings and share what she is sharing with you now,” he said.

Morrison responded that she does work as a commissioner daily.

Eggleston then used a prior edition of the Times Observer, claiming it is the only written proposal she has made on budget cuts, and responded to those specific items, including a desire on Morrison’s part to cut contingency funding.

“The contingency is entirely the Erie Bank” account, funds remaining from the North Warren land deal many years ago. “We allocated it so that we could spend it. It’s not tax dollars. You would have known that if you had worked on the budget.”

Morrison said she disagreed with the “Erie Bank funds being used in that manner.”

Eggleston noted that one mill of taxes is $490,000 and challenged her suggestion that overtime could be cut, indicating she would need to call meetings with the court and the sheriff to move that effort forward.

“It’s been cut every single year we’ve been in office,” he added.

Morrison said she is working to get recordings of the meetings online so that the taxpayers can know they vote on items.

“This is a serious business when dealing with tax dollars,” Eggleston said. “I can understand how Commissioner Morrison (is) concerned how taxpayers feel about this budget and how things are done here…”

He said their work “affects people in a serious way,” and alleged that Morrison is “more interested” in misleading people. “It has to stop. (I am) more than willing to work on cost-cutting procedures,” and called on her to work with the fiscal director to craft a proposal, indicating he would re-open the budget if she did so.

“What I am recommending are cuts that could be easily made,” Morrison said. “(I am) disinterested in having a contract with ABM and the amount of money it is going to cost the taxpayers.”

She said that she worked with the fiscal director and emailed on changes she would like to see.

“I’m not taken seriously and that’s the bottom line,” she claimed. “I have not called either of you a liar,” asserting that Kafferlin has referred to her as a liar. “They’re not lying. They’re just wrong. You can choose to see it this way or you can see it their way. This is how I think, believe and feel. I’m not asking you to agree with me.”

Eggleston noted that the dedicated bond debt used to be 1.5 mills, but years ago was reduced to one mill with the .5 mill being reallocated to general millage.

“This isn’t precedent setting or anything like that.”