According to the Fayette County Commissioners, the planned county budget, which is a little over $15 million, for 2020 is balanced but tight.
“Revenues are a lot closer to what expenditures are,” said county commissioner Dan Dean. “Keep shopping local.”
Commissioner Tony Anderson explained, “we still have an awfully large reliance on sales tax.”
“We’ve had a little leeway in the past summer with the growth we’ve had in sales tax,” said Dean. “My first years of being commissioner, sales tax bumped up every year. We try to be careful and not use that money to lock in cost—use it for capital improvement or pay off capital debts which we did, which saved us a lot of money.”
“Sales tax generated in Fayette County stays in Fayette County—at least a portion of it,” explained Dean.
Of the 7.25 percent sales tax, the county receives 1.50 percent of it while the rest goes to the state, he explained.
According to Dean, that 1.50 percent sales tax generated “just a shade over $8 million dollars” for the county in 2019. This was an increase from $7.7 million in 2018.
“Three years ago was $9.2 million. So we’ve been working with less revenue. That’s made it somewhat difficult,” said Dean.
Part of the $15 million budget includes budgeting for the new Fayette County Jail which the commissioners explained was one of their greatest achievements when looking back through 2019.
A levy to build the new jail was voted on and passed during the special election of 2019, and the new facility is set to be completed near the end of 2020.
“We appreciate that this community gave us a chance to build a jail,” said Anderson. “People will be given a chance.”
“I firmly believe it will save the county money in the long run,” said Dean. “If the jail would have been closed and we had to transport prisoners—it would have been an exorbitant cost. And at some point a 130 year-plus jail was going to be closed by the state.”
According to commissioner Jim Garland, having the new jail and planned programs to assist in drug rehabilitation could help in decreasing repeat offenders while giving people who want help the opportunity to make better lives for themselves.
One of the main goals for 2020, according to Anderson, is to “get some growth in the industrial sites to provide opportunity to families.”
Anderson explained the growth he means can be throughout the county, the mega-site at the Interstate 71/U.S. 35 intersection and even the industrial site within the City of Washington Court House.
“An over-arching goal is to get maybe another 5,000 people to live in our county,” said Anderson. “It’s been very stagnant for a long time and I think it’s because we don’t present well.”
“We’ve been seeing our Land Bank being effective last year,” said Dean. “Getting rid of some of the blighted houses and some of the vacant lots and getting those turned around so they can have new, productive homes for families to move into. Which will make those properties now productive as far as paying taxes—property taxes in particular, which will help everybody else as it gets divided out among everybody. So, the more paid the less it is for everybody.”
There were many improvements seen in 2019 and more to come in 2020, the commissioners said.
“We’ve updated our BMV and our title department and that gives better service to the community,” said Anderson. “Upgraded a lot of things that grants delivery services at the airport—and I think we have a stellar airport for a small, rural community. A great guy out there, a great Pilot’s Association that provides services.”
The new jail is set to be complete in 2020. A project off State Route 35 near I-71 is in progress that could, as previously reported, include a new gasoline/truck stop, hotels and restaurants. Another project, titled “Project Zeus,” is ongoing although not yet released publicly.
The state assists financially with various projects. One of which is matching dollars spent for the Soil and Water Conservation District.
“If we put an extra $10 thousand dollars into the soil and water budget, the state will match it dollar-for-dollar,” said Dean. “So, we put in $10,000 and the department gets $20,000 to operate with.”
More recently, the state has agreed to assist counties in paying for legal counsel for those who can’t afford it as required under the Constitution, according to Anderson and Dean.
“Instead of us paying over $200,000-250,000, this year hopefully it’s only going to be $50,000-75,000,” explained Dean. “The reason that’s a fluid number is because of the state revenues and the money they have to put toward it, but regardless it will be better for the county.”
“We really appreciate the way the current administration is looking at a partnership with counties instead of looking at us as being an expense,” said Anderson. “We impact their budget and we are the delivery arm of the mandates they pass down. Just like everybody’s home, equipment wears out. We’ve got obligations as far as capital expenses.”
“We’re hoping our community provides reason for people to come here. Downtown shopping stuff has increased greatly over the years,” said Anderson. “(Fayette County) Travel and Tourism has a bigger budget, because the funding is bed tax based and that stays really strong.”
Bed taxes, according to Dean, are the taxes charged when staying at a hotel. The percentage charged for bed tax is different depending on location. As some areas have a higher percentage, some even 17 percent, a 3 percent tax here is “a good deal.”
Even though the local tax is only 3 percent, Dean explained it generates approximately $400,000. Of this $400,000, approximately $300,000 goes to Travel and Tourism while the remainder goes to the entities in which the hotels reside, such as the Village of Jeffersonville, the Village of Octa, the City of Washington Court House, etc.
“Of the $300,000, we give over $150,000 away to assistance grants,” said Dean. “The Village of Octa this past year couldn’t use all of the money in their portion in their area. So they gave a good portion of it to the Village of Jeffersonville to repair the pool because it’s used so much.”
According to Dean, when using funds coming from Travel and Tourism, a grant application is filled out and filed detailing what the grant is to be used for and how it can improve travel and tourism to the county. He explained there are more requests than what’s available.
The recent “Downtown Live” event had an ad placed in Ohio Magazine courtesy of Travel and Tourism, according to Dean. These type of “low expense” advertisements help to bring in people from other areas to help add money into our local economy.
Anderson explained that a lot of the budgeting and fiscal work doesn’t get done from their “side of the desk.”
“All of the elected officials present a budget for us that they say they’re going to need to get by with. Then be fiscally watchful,” said Anderson. “When we look at delivery of service to the community, that happens with people. And if we want to keep good people, sometimes that costs us money. And if we weren’t able to deliver a service when the community thinks it’s of value, then we would have a problem.”
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.