2017 county budget ‘extremely tight’

The 2017 budget for Brown County is one of the tightest in years.
Brown County Commission President Barry Woodruff said some of the pressures on the county general fund include setting aside $380,000 to pay for housing jail inmates in Butler County and having to cut $200,000 from the budget in anticipation of lower state tax revenue funding.
The total general fund for the county in 2017 is $9,913,331.30, compared to $9,175,134.26 in 2016.
Each county department received a slight increase in funding in the 2017 budget except for the Brown County Board of Elections, who received more money in 2016 because it was a presidential election year.
On the expense side, the largest single expense for the county is for employee health insurance.  That bill is $848,433.66, which is nearly ten percent of the general fund.
The total commitment of the county to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) is approximately $650,000.
Brown County commits over half of the county general fund under the umbrella of public safety and the judicial system.
The combined budgets of the offices of sheriff, prosecutor and three county court systems adds up to $5,218,555.02.
Woodruff said that he feels to a large degree that the county budget is being held hostage by the necessary reaction to heroin epidemic.
“They are rounding up these folks and it’s causing our incarceration rates to go through the roof, which overpopulates our jail,” Woodruff said.
“Ultimately, it’s going to affect every county department that uses general funds for their particular budget.”
Woodruff said that the time has come to make some hard choices about the jail issue.
“We have a couple of options.  We can dry up all of our cash (sending inmates to Butler County) or get serious about some sort of jail expansion.”
Butler County charges $70 per day per inmate.  If the average daily inmate census is around 25, the bill is about $50,000 per month.
The Brown County Criminal Justice Task Force and the commissioners have been exploring cost options for jail expansion.
The task force is expected to meet again next month to continue to discuss the issue.
“We have reached the point that we must expand our jail,” Woodruff said.  “The only question is how to pay for it.  That’s going to have be determined at some point by the taxpayers.  It’s their money.”
He said that possible two choices are a public safety levy or borrowing the money and committing to a large loan payment over a multi-year period.
A one mill increase in county property taxes would yield approximately $750,000 per year.
Woodruff said that the general public did not seem to be receptive to the idea of a public safety levy.
“In campaigning recently, people told me over and over again that they understand the problem of an outdated jail and the heroin issues, but they absolutely cannot afford to have their taxes raised.”
Woodruff added that the idea that the commissioners can somehow “cut corners” and solve the problem with spending cuts isn’t realistic.
“We have to abide by state minimum jail standards.  Our jail will never pass a full inspection from the state because it was built for 38 inmates and we have over 60 in there every day.”
Woodruff said that if a multi-million dollar loan is taken out to expand the jail, that will create a tight budget for the county for up to a decade.