Portage County commissioners and the sheriff are in a budget battle brought on, in part, by health care provisions for part-time workers under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Sheriff David Doak has said he will cut the hours of part-time security staff at county courthouses and other buildings to cut hours for part-time workers and lessen the potential financial impact of health care costs next year.
Under the act, part-time employees who work an average in excess of 30 hours per week are eligible for health care coverage. Commissioners asked Doak to cut back the hours of his part-time deputies during a three-month "look back period." With 37 part-time deputies, having them eligible for health insurance could cost the county another $280,000 per year said Todd Bragg, the commissioners' budget management director.
At a contentious Sept. 5 meeting, a majority of commissioners refused to give the sheriff another $185,000 to keep him from going into the red by the end of the year.
Doak sent a letter to commissioners following the meeting proposing to cut the hours of part-time deputies, including several who provide security at the Kent and Ravenna courthouses, and county administration buildings:
One part-time deputy at the county courthouse in Kent will be cut from 39 to 29 hours while one deputy will remain full-time.
The Ravenna courthouse will see a cut of about 60 hours per week spread among part-time deputies.
Full-time coverage at the county administration building and the Riddle Block will be cut and one deputy will patrol back and forth between the two.
Three deputies overseeing inmate workers will be cut, eliminating mowing at the county dog pound and adjacent facilities and outside painting and maintenance work.
Commissioner Tommie Jo Marsilio said she wanted to give the sheriff the money out of the county's stabilization fund, but didn't receive support from the other commissioners.
The stabilization fund has about $900,000 and was intended for emergencies and to see the county through the first quarter of a new year until property tax revenues begin to flow. It would lessen the reliance on a cash carryover of unspent money from one year to the next, Bragg said.
Commissioner Kathleen Chandler said she was reluctant to tap the stabilization money for the sheriff's budget because it was not a true emergency.
At the Sept. 5 meeting, Commissioner Maureen Frederick urged Doak to make the cuts in hours needed to stay within the budget or face end-of-year problems.
"Your not going to like it and we're not going to like it and it's going to mean some huge cuts," Frederick said.
Thursday, when they reviewed the sheriff's letter, Marsilio again said she was willing to give the sheriff whatever he needed to keep the security hours.
Marsilio said she believed the cuts in hours were because "he had no other option."
"I think he has other options. I think he's doing it to be punitive," Chandler responded.
"Would you be willing to put any money on the table so the sheriff could prioritize?" which positions to fund, Marsilio asked.
Chandler said the sheriff "can prioritize now" without additional money.
Chandler said she was frustrated with the sheriff's budget growing beyond the original appropriation each year. In the past six years, commissioners have allocated additional funds ranging from $431,128 in 2007 to nearly a million dollars last year.
So far this year, commissioners have added $447,946 to the sheriff's original appropriation of $11,707,913.
Increases for the sheriff's office budget averaged 6.2 percent for 2010 through 2012 while commissioners, auditor, prosecutor, recorder and treasurer saw their budgets decrease.
Doak and commissioners had discussed a budget correction when there was additional revenues certified by the county budget commission. But, at the Sept. 5 meeting, commissioners said they were told there would not be any new certification, or not at least until December -- too late to adjust the sheriff's budget.
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