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Board OKs budget, no raises for non-union workers

Ottawa County’s 2013 budget passed without any raises included for non-union workers but the county prosecutor says he’s not ready to give up the fight.

Prosecutor Mark Mulligan made a plea to commissioners in late November on behalf of the employees. For the sake of morale, he reasoned, commissioners needed to consider raises for non-union workers under the courthouse umbrella. Those workers haven’t had raises in four years.

Days before the new year, the commissioners made it a fifth year without raises.

Commissioners Steve Arndt, Jim Sass and Mark Stahl unanimously passed an $81.62 million budget, including construction projects and debt reduction. Of that, $13.85 million is dedicated to the general fund for daily operations.

The general fund amount is $650,000 less than what was appropriated for 2012, according to County Administrator Dennis Jensen.

Revenue for the year is figured at $14.039 million Expenses as they are estimated today will run about $13.84 million Jensen said, leaving a cushion of about $194,000.

The three largest department budgets fell to the sheriff’s office ($4.5 million), the municipal court ($728,105) and buildings and grounds ($658,001).

Commissioners also set aside $1.8 million for courthouse maintenance to cover projects at the main courthouse on Madison Street in Port Clinton as well as the municipal court building on East Perry Street. Some of the upgrades include parking lot renovations as well as heating and cooling system revamps.

The slim budget barely covers operations and “We don’t feel there’s room for raises,” Sass said.

But Mulligan had offered commissioners an option. He had freed up money in his budget ($15,000 from the Furtherance of Justice Fund and another $23,000 from the elimination of a part-time position) and had offered it to commissioners. The gesture, he suggested in November, could be used for one-time bonuses for those employees.

Sass said no bonuses were discussed prior to passing the budget.

Mulligan isn’t willing to let the issue drop though, he said Tuesday. And he said he was surprised commissioners would not even consider the alternative.

He and other department heads learned there would be no raises when the commissioners passed the budget Dec. 27.

Days later, however, the board underwent a change. Former Ottawa County Auditor Jo Ellen Regal replaced Mark Stahl, who she unseated in the November election.

Mulligan said he did not want address the new board as it settled in the first week of January.

Still, he’s not planning to shy away from the issue.

“I expect to be talking to them this month and get some action on it for the employees of the county,” Mulligan said.

The commissioners will likely also be spending lots of time with the prosecutor in the next few months regarding another major issue.

The board must determine what to do about the quarter percent sales tax increase enacted in July 2010, Jensen said. The tax, which has brought in about $2.8 million, expires in June, with the last of its receipts expected to flow into county coffers in September.

Basically, the board will explore the legal avenues of whether to extend the sales tax as an emergency or attempt to make it permanent, Jensen said.

The scenarios include:
• The commissioners could pass a resolution to make the quarter percent sales tax permanent and then wait out the 30-day window for a possible referendum filing. Commissioner would also be required to hold a public hearing.

• The board could pass the sales tax as an emergency for the next three years, which requires a unanimous vote. Commissioners must also state the reason for the emergency. Again, a public meeting would be necessary to explain the option

• The board could adopt a resolution directing the board of elections to put a permanent sales tax question on the next election ballot

• And finally, the board could direct the board of elections to put the tax question on the ballot as emergency legislation to let voters decide.

Trick or Treat

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