Soggy stroll

March 17, 2011

[caption width="250" caption=" "][/caption]

Looming state funding cuts haven’t dampened Dennis Stapleton’s parade — Delaware County’s future is still looking bright, the recently elected county commissioner told business leaders Thursday.

Toward the end of his speech to Delaware Area Chamber of Commerce members in which he touted the county’s AAA bond rating, rapid population growth and the importance of an upcoming 911 levy, Stapleton recounted a recent conversation with a county commissioner from another, more rural county.

That county recently had to sell land just to make payroll.

State funding cuts or not — which will amount to a projected $1.2 million over the next two years under a budget proposal made by Gov. John Kasich earlier this week — Delaware County is nowhere near that point.

In fact, Delaware County has weathered tough economic times without making significant layoffs or cuts.

Sure, development has slowed down in Delaware County since its peak years in the early part of this century. But it’s still the 15th-fastest growing county in the United States. And there are still opportunities for growth, particularly along Sawmill Parkway and at the planned new Delaware interchange off Interstate 71, Stapleton said.

“We are so fortunate here in Delaware County,” Stapleton said.

That doesn’t mean the county will be spared the pain of state funding cuts.

Exact details of the Kasich budget plan have not yet been released, but Delaware County officials are preparing for somewhere around a 25 percent reduction in the $2.2 million in local government funds it receives annually from the state.

The impact of a cut in state funding — which is only about 3 percent of the county’s total revenue — is relatively small. Delaware County takes in about $65 million a year, about three-fifths of which is sales tax, mostly thanks to Polaris area.

Still, Delaware County Administrator Tim Hansley said as things stand, the reduction in funding will have a definite long-term impact to county services.

Putting together a 2012 budget should be relatively easy, but 2013 will be a “real problem,” especially considering an expected increase in gas and health insurance costs, he said.

To try to ease the burden, the county would likely first cut the grants it makes to community organizations, but services like EMS, emergency communications and social services could feel the squeeze. Commissioners also may consider reducing the amount of sales taxes currently diverted to county roads and bridges, Hansley said.

Even so, “In 2013, we’re going to be looking at cuts, and you have to cut where the money is. I’ll be shocked if we can balance it without reducing personnel in critical areas,” Hansley said.

Current legislation under consideration at the Statehouse may mitigate some of the need for cuts. Removing prevailing wage requirements, decreasing taxpayer contributions to government employee pensions and weakening collective bargaining rights for public employees could help reduce the county’s costs, Hansley said.

Delaware city figures to have a rougher go at it. Local government funds comprise about 10 percent of the city’s roughly $10 million in annual general fund revenues, said city manager Tom Homan. The city already stands to lose $350,000 in annual revenues with the expected upcoming Republican repeal of the estate tax.

City council will meet this Monday to discuss how the funding cuts will affect city services, Homan said.