Monroe County treasurer advises commissioners to halt projects until county’s financial future improves

Monroe treasurer feels finances need to be more stable

T-L Photo/MIRANDA SEBROSKI Monroe County commissioner Mick Schumacher looks over a report after listening to Treasurer Taylor Abbott and Mary Jo Westfall from the OSU extension office speak about project in the county. On Monday, Abbott advised the commissioners not to continue with any more projects until finances are stable.

WOODSFIELD — Monroe County commissioners are spending more money from the general fund than it is bringing in, leaving Treasurer Taylor Abbott concerned about the county’s financial future.

On Monday, Abbott attended a commission meeting and provided a “General Fund Snapshot” for commissioners to consider. Abbott said that in December 2015, the county had $6.3 million in cash reserves in the general fund. As of December 2018, less than $1.4 million in cash remained.

Over that period of three years, $9.2 million was transferred out of the general fund with $5.9 million used for the Monroe County Care Center. The care center went through a restructuring in 2016 and lost most of its patients due to the revocation of its Medicaid and Medicare certification. The center has since gone through several inspections and reviews from the Ohio Department of Health to regain its certification, but the loss in revenue during the process prompted the need for the center to borrow money from the county’s general fund to stay afloat. This left the facility owing millions of dollars to the county. LeaderStat, a skilled nursing management agency, was hired by commissioners and helped the facility to regain its recertification.

“You have to take into consideration that the county could have had $15 million in cash reserves,” Abbott said regarding revenue projections that were affected by the fund transfers. “Now it is just the $1.4 million.”

According to Abbott’s “snapshot” of county finances, general fund expenditures have exceeded revenues every year since 2016.

His figures show revenue deficits of $3,402,207 in 2016; $473,402 in 2017; and $1,046102 in 2018.

For 2018, the general fund beginning balance was $2,444,813, and the county took in $11,451,175 in revenue for that fund.

A total of $12,497,277 was spent, leaving an ending balance of $1,398,712.

Also present Monday was Mary Jo Westfall, Ohio State University extension office associate. Westfall has been attending meetings with the commissioners often to discuss building an agricultural complex at the county fairgrounds. She attended a meeting in late February for the opening of bids for construction. Commissioners did not choose a bid at that time and said a discussion would take place at their meeting this week. On Monday, though, no decision made.

Commissioners had asked that Abbott’s office take on the bond for the agricultural complex. But Abbott said Monday that this project and other pending projects should not move forward until it is determined that the county can afford them.

“I think that these projects are great for the county, but it is my job to advise when the county is in trouble,” Abbott said. “I am advising that there shouldn’t be any more projects for the county until the financial aspects are worked out. The report so far with the general fund is not looking good.”

Abbott had talked with commissioners at a meeting in December 2018 in which the county hired Public Finance Resources, a financial consulting firm that provides services such as financial forecasting, customized reports and data analysis for government bodies. The goal of the partnership is to create a five-year fiscal plan for the county. According to Abbott, PFR can help the county’s financial situation, but it is still up to commissioners in the end to decide how money is spent from the general fund. Commissioners will be meeting with and receiving a final financial forecast from PFR either March 25 or April 1.

“The final report coming in a few weeks is pretty bad for the county unless corrective changes can be made,” Abbot said.

Pending projects for the county include the OSU agricultural building and construction of a new county dog pound. The agriculture building was first proposed to Monroe County commissioners in late 2017 by Westfall. She has been working with Bryan Kline, an architect for Tekton Engineering. The planned building is expected to serve as a place for agricultural education at the fairgrounds in Woodsfield. It would also house the OSU Extension Service for Monroe County, the Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Monroe County Agricultural Society, since the building will have various rooms available. Plans also call for a large area that can serve as a conference room as well as a space for 4-H programs and agricultural meetings.

There were two rounds of bids for construction of the agricultural building, after the first round of bids was rejected by commissioners. The lowest bid in the second set of bids was from PCS Builders LLC, based in Cleveland, for $753,136. In addition, G&M Construction, from Zanesville, Ohio, bid $899,000; Hostetler Buildings LLC of Adamsville, Ohio, bid $980,500; Wolf Creek Contracting Co. LLC of Waterford, Ohio, bid $987,988; and Mark Mondo of Marietta, Ohio, bid $1,033,999.

In December, the Ohio House of Representatives allocated $100,000 toward the new Monroe County Agricultural Education Complex. A meeting of the state Controlling Board, on which state Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, serves, gave final approval for the funding as part of House Bill 529.

Meanwhile, Dog Warden Rhonda Piatt has been working since 2007 to secure a new location for the dog pound. Within the last year, she developed plans to construct a new facility near the MACO Workshop in Woodsfield. The dog pound is a county-owned facility and currently is located near the Monroe County Airport. The commissioners and Piatt have agreed that fixing up the current shelter is not feasible because it is located near the airport and eventually would need to be moved.

There are plans to have a barn at the shelter site to house animals that are better suited for that setting, such as horses. A total cost for the new shelter has not been finalized, but Matt Brakes of Swiss Valley Associates has been working with Piatt on the project and has said the building’s substructure is expected to cost $21,600. The rest of the building will have a base price of $78,000, which will include interior finishes and insulation.