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Pandemic puts strain on county coffers as sales tax receipts decline

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County’s budget is looking tight for the rest of 2020 and 2021, Auditor Anthony Rocchio told the board of commissioners when he spoke Wednesday about the area’s financial outlook with decreases in sales tax due COVID-19.

Commissioner J.P. Dutton said the board and auditor would continue to work on the budget through the fall and winter. They will also consult department heads who are looking at their own expenses.

“There’s a lot of conversations to be had internally,” Dutton said. “Challenges remain. We’re still waiting on numbers from the state, which is customary.”

They are awaiting sales tax numbers from April through June.

“2020 in general has been a challenging year,” Commissioner Josh Meyer said. “We’re still hopeful and optimistic we’ll be able to move forward with a solid budget.”

Commissioner Jerry Echemann agreed.

“The biggest issue is what we lost from the sales tax,” Rocchio said. “We’re one of the hardest-hit counties across the state. … The last few months coming in, we’ve been over 20 percent loss from previous months, and we’re still waiting on April, which will be the first full month that we were shut down.”

“In February we got hit with a 20 percent decrease, March was I think a 23 percent decrease in our sales tax revenue,” Rocchio elaborated afterward. “Just assuming April’s going to be a little bit worse than that. … We never (previously) on a monthly basis got below $860,000 in a month for the sales tax. In February and in March … we were actually below $750,000 in March. … We know if we stay above a certain number, that we’ll be OK.”

Dutton voiced hope there may be a “bounce” in June’s sales tax numbers.

“We’ll know more in the next few months. We’ve taken a lot of the right steps,” Rocchio said, adding he hopes for no significant cuts.

Dutton said the commissioners have had sound financial practices during the past several years that may soften the landing.

“It’s going to be important to see how the local economy is going to respond from now till the end of the year,” Dutton said.

Rocchio said he hoped to make another public report in August.

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