ST. CLAIRSVILLE Belmont County Auditor Andrew Sutak visited commissioners during their Wednesday meeting as part of County Government Month and gave a presentation on the duties of his office. These include general accountant, real estate, licensing, and weights and measures. In addition, Sutak acts as an agent for the state for services including vendor's licensing.
His general accountant duties include administration and distribution of tax revenues. He is also accountant for all funds that come through the county, including taxes, special assessments, sales tax, local government funds, grant funding, interest, and agency revenues that come from state and federal sources.
In addition, his office covers the administration of county payroll for all county employees.
"We have over 500 employees. We must take care of the payroll of those employees," he said, adding that this includes not only making their paychecks, but taking out federal and state taxes, retirement, and other factors. The office is responsible for quarterly reports to the state and federal level. "It's a very, very technical position of administering these types of duties."
The auditor's office also produces a comprehensive annual financial report for county, state and federal government. Sutak cited advantages including better accountability and better ability to borrow funds when needed.
Responsibilities include payment of county obligations.
"Every payment to any business or agency or anything, my office provides that," he said.
In addition, the auditor's office distributes tax dollars to townships for county and public agencies. Sutak made particular note of the effects on townships from cuts to local government. Since the distribution was cut by 50 percent during the past two years, they are no longer able to set aside funds for equipment instead of using the normal operating budget.
"That has gone to the wayside. What we're collecting is barely enough to give back to the townships for them to operate," Sutak said, adding that cutbacks to personal property tax and utility taxes have hampered services to constituents. The only options left are levies.
"There's no additional money coming in to help subsidize that, and that's because of the cuts that come down from the state," he said.
In addition, statues require the auditor to appraise and assess real estate. He explained the process of preparing taxes rates on the levies, sending the information to the state capital, which informs the county of each taxing district's effective millage rate distribution based on evaluation of real estate and public utility personal property in each district.
Manufactured homes such as trailers must be registered with his office, including special assessments for utilities and services.
Sutak pointed out several beneficial programs such as the Homestead Exemption allows people 65 and older a $25,000 reduction in the market value of their home when they apply. They are taxed at 35 percent of that reduced market value, which is what the millage rates are applied to.
He also brought up Current Agricultural Use Evaluation, which has helped give tax breaks to farmers. Since farmers often have considerable land, they are eligible for tax reduction if they are farming. Renewals are processed by the auditor's office yearly and it is Sutak's duty to see that the statutes are being followed.
His office also deals with the property tax rollback for homeowners.
He noted the general accounting includes $203 million received each year, which is expected to increase due to oil and gas revenues.
"It's not here yet but it's coming," he said, adding that a high volume of oil and gas traffic is expected.
"Oil and gas is going to be our backbone," he said.
He added that it can be difficult to predict some budgetary items due to factors such as natural gas being a market driven extraction based on demand.
He has also been requesting that the state accelerate the ability to tax current. As of now, someone extracting gas this year will get their first tax bill in 2015.
In other matters, Ohio statutory law mandates general reappraisal every six years, requiring his office to see that buildings and land is uniformly assessed for tax purposes. He also must provide a update of any new construction in the county every three years.
He also reminds residents that taxes do not automatically increase when valuation increases. The voted levies are rolled back when value goes up.
"We're never collecting the full millage on the voted levies, but what we are collecting full millage is the inside 10 mills," he said, adding that each taxing district has 10 mills inside.
Weights and measures also fall under the auditor's authority. This is includes checking gas pumps to ensure the calibration of gas is going into the vehicle correctly.
"What you pay for a gallon of gas is what you should be getting for a gallon of gas, and that's my job to make sure that happens," Sutak said.
Sutak also serves as secretary of the Budget Commission, the Board of Revision, Records Commission, and the Tax Incentive Review Council.
More information can be found at the auditor's Web site at www.belmontcountyohio.org/auditor.htm
DeFrank can be reached at email@example.com