December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Commissioners aid departments

Money provided to sheriff, courts covers half of what’s been requested

ELYRIA — County commissioners loosened the purse strings Thursday, agreeing to give more money to elected officials who had spent the past two weeks painting a gloomy picture of layoffs and other drastic measures if cuts imposed earlier this year weren’t lifted.
But the money doled out was half of what the officials had sought, and Commissioner Lori Kokoski questioned the wisdom of giving money across the board and voted against the measure.
“We need to focus on safety first,” Kokoski said.
Kokoski urged fellow commissioners Betty Blair and Ted Kalo to give Sheriff Phil Stammitti the full $146,000 he said he needed to avoid laying off deputies instead of the $75,000 the other commissioners voted to give the sheriff. She also said the commissioners should give the courts and county Board of Elections the money they said they needed.
The county’s judges and Elections Board can order the commissioners to cough up cash to balance their budgets, although all have said that’s a last-ditch measure they want to avoid.
Clerk of Courts Ron Nabakowski, who had warned commissioners he would have to close his doors in October without an additional $225,600, said the $112,800 commissioners voted to give him Thursday might allow him to stay in business through November.
“I’m better off than I was yesterday,” he said.
But Nabakowski said he still might have to make layoffs or go to a four-day work week, a measure that the clerk’s office utilized in the 1980s when another county budget crisis loomed.
“Whatever we do here is going to mean we’re going to be further behind in our work,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ve negatively impacted the justice system yet, but we’re getting close.”
Blair said other elected officials need to learn to live within their budgets, even with the cuts prompted by the loss of $3.5 million in state funding to the county last year.
The county has about $2 million that it can play with this year, Blair said, but next year that money won’t be there unless voters approve a 0.25 percentage point sales tax increase in November that will bring in about $7.4 million annually.
“Sooner or later they have to come to the realization that we’re not a bottomless pit,” she said.
Court Administrator Tim Lubbe said the county’s general division judges — who got an infusion of $77,880 on Thursday — would try to get by with what the commissioners had given them, but he wished they’d received the full $155,759 they’d requested.
“I’m hopeful that’s enough,” he said. “I’m not ecstatic. I’m not disappointed.”
Elections Board Director Jose Candelario, who warned the commissioners that without another $305,000 the county wouldn’t be able to hold a presidential election next year, said the $152,500 his office received Thursday was enough to get him through the end of the year.
But, he said, the elections board won’t have enough to begin its preparations for the presidential election.
“The things we’re asking for aren’t frills, they’re the minimum,” Candelario said.
All told, the commissioners doled out $727,066 on Thursday, leaving about $1.3 million to divvy up if they receive the tax revenue they expect, although county Budget Director Lisa Hobart warned that sales tax revenue was down from July of last year.
Kalo said he wanted to be fair and give every department something and revisit the budget requests in the fall.
“We’ll see where we end up,” he said.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.