September 18, 2014

Elyria
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Officials plead for money

ELYRIA — County agencies and departments have been trying to scrimp and save after budget cuts earlier this year, but it doesn’t appear to be enough.
Sheriff Phil Stammitti told county commissioners at a budget hearing Thursday that if he doesn’t get his department’s lost money restored, he may have to lay off deputies.
“If I could get back what was cut, which was about $146,000, I could work with that,” he said.
The county jail, which is funded separately, is expected to have a $600,000 budget shortfall by the end of the year, Stammitti said.
Other elected officials sang the same tune as the commissioners reviewed what — if any — cuts should be restored. More hearings are planned for next week.
County Board of Elections Director Jose Candelario said he needs another $305,000 for postage, voting machine repairs, payroll and to gear up for the 2008 presidential election.
“If we don’t get the money, there won’t be a presidential election in Lorain County,” he said.
County Prosecutor Dennis Will’s prognosis for his staff was equally glum, even after getting $20,000 to cover the expenses of investigating a scandal around the construction of the county Justice Center from one of the suspects in the case.
Will said he needs between $130,000 and $156,000 to get through the year. He said he’s looking at putting his staff on staggered furloughs to defray those costs.
Despite numerous cost-saving measures, including not replacing several prosecutors and other staffers who have left, Will said he simply can’t do much more if he wants to keep prosecuting criminals and dealing with his other responsibilities.
County Auditor Mark Stewart said he needs $96,625 to meet payroll, while county Recorder Judy Nedwick said she’s looking at a $41,500 payroll shortfall.
The county’s general division judges, said they’ll need at least another $373,000 to make it to the end of the year, the bulk of it to cover court-appointed attorney fees.
Court Administrator Tim Lubbe said the courts have an option other departments simply don’t have — they can order the county to give them the money they need, although it could mean a pricey court battle if commissioners refuse.
“The judges are reticent to do that,” Lubbe said after bringing up the possibility.
After the hearings, all the requests for additional funds on Thursday totaled about $1.5 million. Commissioner Lori Kokoski said she’s not sure where the county — which lost about $3.5 million in state funding this year — is going to get the money.
Commissioners approved a 0.25 percentage point sales tax increase that was expected to bring in about $7.4 million annually, but a petition drive managed to get it placed on the ballot in November, and county officials have expressed doubts that it will pass.
In the meantime, the county is left with an emaciated budget and hard choices, although Kokoski said for her, at least, one decision is already made.
“You can’t play around with safety,” she said. “Sheriff Stammitti needs to be made whole. As for the others, we’ll do the best we can.”
Things could get even worse next year. County officials submitted their preliminary budgets for 2008 Thursday, which county Budget Director Lisa Hobart described as “wish lists.”
In total, the departments asked for $66.6 million, but the county is expected to bring in only about $51 million. Even if the county burned through its expected $10.5 million carryover, it wouldn’t be enough to cover those costs.
“We’d need $4.8 million after all the carryover is spent,” said county Administrator Jim Cordes.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.