Finance projections for 2019

Belmont County Auditor Roger Conroy gives the county’s projected budget report for 2019.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County Auditor Roger Conroy has given commissioners a financial forecast for 2019.

During their regular meeting Wednesday, Conroy gave them a heads-up about what to expect during budget hearings this year. The final certification and those hearings with various department heads are still to come.

Commissioner Josh Meyer was absent from the meeting because he had another appointment.

Conroy said the 2019 county budget is shaping up much like the one this year.

“Our estimates are that we will be pretty consistent,” he said. “The budget that we had last year and the year before that we stuck with, that’s probably going to be about the same for the following year, and that runs about $25 million.”

He said revenues are expected to be about $24,607,000, with expenditures about $500,000 less, leaving a carryover of about a half-million into 2019.

“That’s something that’s pretty consistent for the last couple of years,” Conroy said. “It doesn’t vary much.”

“We’re going to have a starting point where we were from 2016 and 2017,” said commissioner Mark Thomas. “As far as we will not intentionally create or increase the budget, we’re going to stay the course of where we are with very conservative estimated revenues and deal with it accordingly as the year goes on.”

“We’re in a much better position in that regard than we were four to five years ago,” said Commissioner J.P. Dutton.

Conroy said the sales tax is expected to remain about $10 million, similar to this year.

“We haven’t seen significant increases in sales tax, which is a big component,” said Conroy who also said there was not a jump in purchasing in the months following Christmas.

He also addressed a recent influx of $173,000 in conveyance fees, saying he is not yet able to certify the funds for any purpose because the amount has not exceeded the year’s projected limit of $300,000.

“Since our fees have not exceeded what our projected estimate is, there’s no new money to certify,” he said. “There may be, come November.

“We still haven’t exceeded what we estimated we would receive, because we still have two or three months left,” Conroy said. “That’s when we would certify it, because we received more than we estimated…It makes a difference. Not a large difference when you’re operating on a $25 million budget.”

He said $600,000, chiefly from casino tax and gas and oil revenue, will be certified Thursday. Thomas said the commissioners have generally used those funds for capital improvements.

Conroy also said property taxes will increase after the ongoing re-appraisal.

“Our property taxes are pretty consistent, since we’re only going through completing our re-appraisal and they won’t be billed or collected till next year,” he said. “The collection on those is pretty consistent.”

Conroy said the re-appraisal generally results in an increase of 10 percent to 15 percent.

“Instead of just doing all neighborhoods as one, they do it particularly based on the location of the neighborhood,” he said. “There is a difference in Belmont County. You have places in Bellaire, Ferry, Bridgeport, they can be 100 years old. It’s hard to find 100-year-old dwellings in St. Clairsville. There are some, but those neighborhoods are limited, so we like to limit our evaluation of the property for property taxes to what the value is on that neighborhood … Our property tax next year, although it will increase, will be based on something more realistic than just an overall increase because you’ve been around another year.”

He said his office will be open for hearings with citizens to review their increases.

The commissioners also will receive $266,000 for the county’s share in local government funding. For the past four years, the commissioners have diverted that share to the county’s subdivisions for about $3,400 each. Thomas said the commissioners have not made a decision regarding 2019, but said he was in favor of continuing to forego in the interest of assisting local governments. The decision must be made by October.

“$3,400’s a lot to some political subdivisions,” Conroy said. “To the county, $266,000 is also quite a significant amount.”

Conroy said the total anticipated local government funding for 2019 is $1,726,000, an increase of about $70,000 from this year, but $1,700 less than five years ago.

Conroy also reviewed income from oil and gas sources.

“The activity of gas and oil is increasing,” he said. “A lot of wells that were not drilled in the past were not drilled because they did not have completed pipelines. Wells were capped … The county’s like everybody else. They lease property, they get an up-front payment, then they get royalty money when the gas comes out. There’s not millions flowing into the county just because we have gas and oil.”

Conroy said oil and gas royalties received from the start of the influx to present day came to about $158,919.90.

The county also continues to cope with losing the Medicaid sales tax revenue that stopped coming in July 1, 2017.

“They do reimburse some money,” he said. “Nowhere near what they take away.”

Conroy said the state has given the county money to reduce the effect, but the reimbursement is not expected to continue into next year.

“We may be at the end of it right now, 2018 may be the last,” he said. “There’s no commitments.”

He said communities are feeling strained. In the November, Belmont County voters will see 16 levies on the ballot, although none are county-wide.

Conroy said the county has maintained the budget for the past three years despite problem areas such as issues of overcrowding at the jail.

“It’s imperative for all of our elected officials and department heads to understand where we are financially and that there are no magical funds out there,” said Thomas. “Everybody needs to be very wary and cautious of their budget.”