EATON — “Things are a lot better” now than they were in 2008-2009, according to Preble County Commission President Rodney Creech.
Creech had his first experience at presenting the annual “State of the County” address during a breakfast event hosted by the Preble County Chamber of Commerce on Friday, March 18.
According to Creech, a lot of improvement has been seen on the relationship side of things, particularly between the county offices, City of Eaton, and area villages.
“Relationships have come a long way,” Creech said in opening his presentation. “If we’re all going in separate directions, it’s just not going to happen.”
Hearkening back to the ‘08-‘09 fiscal years, and citing cuts from the state and more that began around that time, Creech said the county’s general fund is in a better state now than it was then.
Number one reason: an increase in sales tax revenue, which is the county’s largest revenue source at 51 percent of the GF.
The increase in sales tax revenue means the economy in Preble County is doing well. “For the most part, people are doing great,” Creech said of area businesses.
The second increase is due to property tax revenue (23 percent of the GF,) most of which goes to the five area school districts.
The property tax increase was seen statewide, due mostly to the triennial update and CAUV (Current Agricultural Use Value.)
Other revenue is nowhere near where it was in ‘08-‘09. State-provided Local Government Funds were at $800,000 then, and continue to drop. These funds, which make up four percent of the county’s General Fund was just over $412,000 in 2015. Although LGFs recently showed a slight increase, they are expected to decrease again next year.
Interest income is beginning to go back up, according to Creech.
On the service revenue side of things, Creech pointed out there hasn’t been a lot of change to charges for services from the Clerk of Courts, Juvenile Court or Preble County Recorder — these are very important sources of revenue for the county, and account for 11 percent of the total General Fund.
The county saw approximately $483,000 from Ohio’s Casino Tax, which accounts for four percent of the General Fund.
On the expense side of things, Creech pointed out, in 2008, the county was typically spending more than it was taking in. In 2009, after some “changes in leadership” he said the county made some “dramatic cuts.”
Some six years later, Creech noted, the expenditures and revenue were close in 2015, but for good reason, and mainly because there was a lot of facility upkeep and maintenance taken care of. That makes the figures a little misleading, he noted.
The Preble County Courthouse is almost a century old — “there’s a lot of maintenance to a courthouse,” he said.
Other county courthouses have been found to not be safe. Not so Preble County’s.
Other increased expenditures are attributed to Children Services, and the mandated services which are “pretty much out of our control,” Creech said.
In 2010, JFS services accounted for $162,000 from the General Fund.
In 2015, that number rose to $571,000.
Of mandated services, Children Services, which includes child placements, was up most, with an $160,000 increase in mandated services.
The steep increase in need for services can be highly attributed to the ongoing drug issues, including the heroin epidemic, according to officials.
“Until we can stop that, we’re going to have this issue,” Creech said. “And even the professionals can’t figure out how.”
Indigent defense costs from the General Fund are down, but this is another expense which is out of the county’s control. Thanks to an increase in reimbursement percentages, now at 48 percent, this expense continues to trend downward.
“Income is up, expenses are up, but it’s getting better,” Creech said.
The current board made some decisions to update facilities and equipment, $36,000 of which was on cleaning and maintaining the outside of the courthouse.
Some accomplishments for the county in 2015 included:
•Cleaning and repairing of courthouse parapets.
•Paving and striping of parking lots. (County officials also worked in conjunction with the City of Eaton, to pave some alleyways, a collaboration which worked out well, according to commissioners.)
•Updating the Juvenile Courtroom
•Updating the 1980s telephone system
•Updating the 9-1-1 dispatch consoles, providing new radios to all Preble County Sheriff’s Deputies to enable the SO to communicate on the state’s MARCS (multi-agency radio communication) system.
•Installing new boilers and chillers at the Preble County Sheriff’s Office.
•Receiving funds to aid in the purchase of electronic poll books for voter verification for the Preble County Board of Elections. The county has also set aside funds to purchase new voting equipment, according to Creech.
According to Creech, the county currently has approximately $3 million (about two or three months’ expenses) unencumbered in the county’s “checkbook.”
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” said Creech, who said the county spends approximately $900,000/month.
The county could barely make payroll at one point in 2009, according to officials. “We can’t look at a few months ahead, not even six months,” Creech said. “We have to look out a year ahead.”
Preble County has saved about $320,000 by pumping leachate from the Preble County Landifll to the Lakengren Water Authority for processing. This is a considerable savings, according to Creech, who said there has been so much rainfall this year some leachate still had to be trucked out.
Community Development Block Grant awards from the state have allowed the county to help area villages with major infrastructure projects for the past 33 years. Since 1982, the county has received over $5.1 million which was used in improvements for the City of Eaton, villages and townships and improvements at several county agencies. Most recently, in 2015 West Elkton received $51,000 for sidewalks, curbs and storm sewers and Lewisburg received $40,000 for downtown improvements.
In 2015, West Elkton also received $300,000 in Community Distress/Neighborhood Revitalization funding for Main Street improvements in the village.
Creech also reported:
•The annual Commissioners’ Ball fundraising project raised $25,050 in 2015, and four local nonprofits shared the proceeds.
Usually held in the fall, there will be no 2016 ball, but the event will return in 2017, in February. According to Creech, the hope is the late winter event will provided for better marketing opportunities and a chance to collect more donations.
•On the progress of use on the $875,000 grant received for the Preble County Fairgrounds — “On one hand, $875,000 is an amazing thing,” Creech said. “On the other hand, it doesn’t go very far.”
“We probably could have used $4 million,” Creech said.
Creech noted, the integrity of the buildings was a main focus. However, “there was no way we could put new roofs on all the buildings,” he said. “We’re trying to fix buildings before adding new.
Some $140,000 has been spent on roads, with the Preble County Engineer donating another $100,000. The City of Eaton has provided $40,000 in paving. Approximately $70,000 will be used for upgrades to the block restroom facilities near the end of the grandstands area.
According to Creech, the county has been told $5,000 will fix electrical issues at the fairgrounds.
“We’re looking at it from an economic development standpoint,” Creech said. The state funds have to be used by June 30.
Commissioners pointed out, in the past there was no plans in advance for anything to improve the fairgronds, and now officials are working to development a plan in the event additional funds are acquired.
The county has “put in for another grant” for the fairgrounds,” Creech said.
Volunteers will be spending $10,000 to refurbish the ticket booth at the fairgrounds’ entrance, according to commissioners.
“It’s a historical landmark,” Creech said, noting the plan is to make the fairgrounds eye-appealing and welcoming to visitors.
“Everybody’s going to be proud of the fairgrounds,” Creech said.
Summit Chiropractic of Eaton co-sponsored the event and breakfast was provided by Daylight Donuts.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4055 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.