Hamilton County funding priorities arising out of 2019-20 departmental budget requests, or wish lists, presented on Tuesday aim to boost public education, raise salaries for deputies, EMS personnel and other county employees, and add school resource officers to elementary schools.
Budget requests for the coming fiscal year also seek to reduce incarceration costs, provide more money for volunteer fire departments, continue infrastructure improvements and stay the course on the county's triple-A bond rating, according to County Mayor Jim Coppinger.
May 14: Department of Education budget request presentation
May 15: Budget hearings
June 4: Overall county budget meeting
June 5: Budget presented to County Commission
June 26: Commission votes on budget
Source: Hamilton County Mayor’s Office
There was a standing-room-only crowd on hand at the county's McDaniel Building on North Highland Park Avenue for Coppinger's slide presentation of the requests. Tuesday's requests came from county general government and constitutional offices. Coppinger stressed the figures were requests only, and a formal budget will be formulated as the process continues.
Total expenditure requests presented at the budget workshop for the coming fiscal year, not including the department of education, tallied $276,065,000, a 9.2% increase over last fiscal year's budget of $252,810,705.
Projected revenues for next fiscal year are $260,845,000. While that's 3.2% higher than they were last fiscal year, the difference between projected revenues and expenditure requests represents a $15.2 million shortfall.
Coppinger said revenue growth over that past fiscal year is about $8 million. That figure includes sales tax collections that were up by $1.2 million and property tax revenue that was up by $3.9 million, he said.
And while a property tax increase wasn't directly discussed, the last page of Coppinger's presentation showed the history of property tax hikes going back to the 1990s. Hikes between 1993 and 2018 ranged from the 51 cents introduced in 1992 to 26.8 cents last fiscal year. Talk of any increase was just "rumors," officials said in April. The current property tax rate is $2.7652 per $100 of assessed value.
Coppinger's presentation did not include county schools — in April, the proposed county schools budget was estimated at $443 million after a $34 million bump — either in expenditures requests or revenue projections presented Tuesday, county spokesman Mike Dunne said. The Hamilton County Department of Education's presentation will come next Tuesday, and its final budget will be "rolled into" the overall county budget, Coppinger said.
After public education, "our priorities are always public safety," Coppinger said. "We've got some serious issues to deal with regarding paramedics and EMTs."
He also talked about adding SROs, more funding for volunteer fire departments and decreasing the costs of incarceration.
Sheriff Jim Hammond spoke to commissioners, since his budget request is one of the largest at $61.1 million, up from $55.5 million last year. Hammond, who approached commissioners last week with the increase, wants to boost salaries of deputies and jailers to make them more competitive with surrounding agencies, and add six new positions, including four patrol officers and two school resource officers in elementary schools.
"We can no longer recruit road officers or jailers because we're so far behind on beginning salaries," the sheriff said.
Hammond wants two more SROs for elementary schools, saying they are "worth their weight in gold" in terms of their impact on student-police relationships and heading off early gang recruitment.
He also talked about efforts to reduce jail costs, reduce incarcerations and improvements at Silverdale Detention Center to allow an eventual move from the aging jail facility downtown.
Also, Coppinger said the county's volunteer fire departments need more funding for equipment, gear and training and to keep the lights on.
County Emergency Management director Chris Adams said he was asked by Coppinger a couple of years ago to devise a funding formula for volunteer fire departments that need help just to pay their operating and maintenance costs. Volunteer fire departments are vital, but the request is modest at $4.2 million, Adams said.
As the process continues, a presentation on the overall proposed budget requests is set for June 4, followed by a presentation to the county commission on June 5. The commission will vote on the budget June 26.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.