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County sees end to reliance on reserve funds

2/14/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Summit County will continue to use reserve funds this year to balance its budget, but county officials said the improving economy means this should be the last year for that to be necessary.

During its Feb. 11 meeting, Summit County Council heard from Brian Nelsen, director of finance and budget, as he delivered his first financial report of the year.

Nelsen said since the economy faltered starting in 2007, the county has used $26.2 in reserve funds because of the recession and state budget cuts.

For 2013, Nelsen said he expects the county to use about $1.1 million in reserves. But as predicted in the county’s 2009 plan to address the economy and its budget, the county plans to return to a positive balance in 2014.

Nelsen added that the county’s entire budget stabilization fund — $25.3 million — is still intact.

“This is in line with the plan we put together and gave to the bond rating agencies,” he said.

Looking back at 2012, Nelsen said the year was the first time the county saw sales tax revenues as high as they were in 2007. There was, however, a drop in property taxes due to lowering valuations of property.

A bright note for 2012 was the first receipt of taxes from the state’s new casinos. The county received $795,873, and this year Nelsen said the county expects to see nearly $3 million.

Nelsen said last year’s budget also was helped after the Summit County Board of Elections used $5.5 million, much less than its original request of $9 million for the year.

So far this year, Nelsen said January was a good month for revenue. Sales taxes for the month were up nearly 10 percent from the previous January, he said. There was also a 41 percent increase in conveyance taxes, which Nelsen said came not because of more homes being sold but because values are going up.

“The economy continues to be moving in the right direction, and property seems to be gaining back in value,” Nelsen said.

Also during the meeting, Council heard a brief presentation from Dan Rice, of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition. He thanked Council for the $1.1 million it has granted the organization during the past several years, and said the group has been able to leverage that into $17 million of in-kind support.

“Summit County is the first county to complete the Towpath Trail [from] county line to county line, and that doesn’t happen by accident,” Rice said.

“It truly is a collaboration,” said Councilwoman Ilene Shapiro (D-at large). “Thank you for your efforts.”

Rice said the next goal in the county is to see the completion of connector trails in communities that lead to the Towpath. There are currently 38 trails in development, he added.

Councilman Nick Kostandaras (D-District 1) said Richfield residents and officials are pleased to have the new 1.2-mile walking trail there near the library. The trail was partially funded through a Summit County Trail and Greenway Plan grant.

Councilwoman Sandra Kurt (D-at large) said the trails for bikers and hikers in the county are a resource that should not be taken for granted.

“There are very few places with trails like this,” she said.

In other business, Council adopted the Capital Improvements Program for 2013-18 for $6.7 million in planned projects and improvements.

Also during the meeting, Kurt noted that a local event is planned as part of One Billion Rising, an international effort to combat violence against women. The Hospice of Visiting Nurse Service event to benefit the Battered Women’s Shelter will take place today, Feb. 14, at 8 p.m. at Zar, 349 S. Main St.

County Council will not meet Feb. 18 due to the Presidents’ Day holiday. Council will next meet for committee meetings Feb. 25 at 4:30 p.m. in Council Chambers on the seventh floor of the Ohio Building, 175 S. Main St. 

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