ELYRIA — The Lorain County commissioners Wednesday passed the county’s general fund budget for the first quarter of 2014, and it contains no cuts to government services despite a projected $1.6 million deficit by the end of next year.
Commissioner Ted Kalo said he’s hopeful that the county will be able to make up the money through increased sales tax collections, casino revenue and other revenue sources. He said that commissioners, as they have done in recent years, will be dealing with budget issues on a routine basis throughout 2014.
“We can adjust the budget as we go,” he said. “… I think we’ll be fine next year.’’
The first quarter’s budget will be just shy of $40 million and that figure includes salaries and retirement contributions for the first three months of the year as well as the full amount for equipment and supplies, county Budget Director Lisa Hobart said.
Kalo said if the county doesn’t make any cuts, the budget will end up being roughly $54 million by the end of 2014.
The commissioners budgeted around $53.7 million this year and for next year, largely locking in the budget amounts for various departments and other elected officials at 2013 figures. Some portions of county government, such as the judges, who can order their budgets, will see increases.
Commissioner Lori Kokoski said she is hopeful the county will make it through 2014 without having to make cuts.
“We’re just going to have to watch it diligently each month to see where we’re at,” she said.
Commissioner Tom Williams said he worries about what the budget will look like at the end of 2014.
“In 2015 it’s going to make it difficult,” he said.
During the meeting Wednesday, Williams also renewed his push to get rid of videographer Hal Rogers, who films the commissioners’ meetings and prepares them for broadcast on public access cable. Rogers receives roughly $25,000 per year for that work and Williams has unsuccessfully tried to push his fellow commissioners to shift to a system that would live stream the meetings over the Internet. Williams estimates that would cost $4,000.
Also during Wednesday’s meeting, several labor leaders chastised commissioners about their handling of an ongoing labor dispute with union workers at the Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services.
Workers there have been involved in contentious negotiations with the law firm of Clemons Nelson, which represents the commissioners, over a new contract. Labor leaders have long complained that the firm is expensive and isn’t based in Lorain County, although Kokoski said that’s a benefit because it removes local politics from the work the law firm does.
The ongoing dispute has led to a strike vote by the workers, although they have yet to walk off the job. The union has filed an unfair labor complaint against the county, complaining about regulations on using county copiers and emails for union business and rules for where striking workers could protest.
The complaint said Kalo talked about the dispute with a worker at a social function last month and said the commissioners weren’t going to negotiate for additional wages for Job and Family Services employees.