By ALLISON WOOD | Staff Writer
MEDINA â€” Before passing the 2009 county budget Wednesday, county commissioners postponed the courthouse renovation/expansion project indefinitely.
In a last-minute twist, Commissioner Pat Geissman voted â€œnoâ€ on the $36.3 million budget, stating it would be wrong to move forward and borrow $13 million for the project when they are being forced to lay off employees.
â€œWeâ€™re going to need every penny we can scrape together,â€ she said.
She changed her mind after Commissioners Sharon Ray and Stephen D. Hambley agreed to postpone the courthouse project on the condition architects be allowed to complete their designs.
Commissioners also decided Wednesday not to fund fully the budget for Juvenile/Probate Judge John J. Lohn, which is in violation of a court order Lohn issued mandating his budget be met. Instead of funding an 8 percent salary increase for employees of the Juvenile Detention Center, commissioners approved raises of 2.5 percent.
Commissioners met in executive session with an attorney before Wednesdayâ€™s budget vote to discuss the judgeâ€™s budget. If the order is not followed, the matter will be heard by the 9th District Court of Appeals.
Hambley said he agreed to the courthouse project postponement because with layoffs imminent, he thought all three commissioners should approve the budget. Only two have to approve any resolution, including a budget.
Along with layoffs at the Medina County Sheriffâ€™s Office, six employees will be laid off in other county offices, including an inspector in the building department, two clerks in the Child Support Enforcement Agency, two employees in the court diversion program and a part-time aide in the human resources department.
Commissioners approved the six layoffs Wednesday.
The sheriffâ€™s office will receive additional money to reduce the number of layoffs, although Hambley said it is up to Sheriff Neil Hassinger to determine where to use these funds. Officials moved about $114,000 from the budgets of other county offices, enough to fund two deputiesâ€™ salaries.
The sheriff has been asked to cut $1 million from last yearâ€™s approximately $10 million budget.
Chief Deputy Ken Baca said the sheriff will have to look at the final budget numbers and meet with union representatives before an exact number of layoffs can be determined.
Last week, Hassinger said he would have to lay off as many as 24 employees, with most of them in corrections and the road patrol. One of the entrances of the Medina County Courthouse likely would be closed because he would be forced to lay off part-time deputies who are stationed there.
More cuts are likely in other areas, including the county engineerâ€™s office.
County Engineer Mike Salay said the number of employees in his office has declined between 10 and 15 percent in the last few years.
Other offices are not filling positions when employees retire or resign. For example, Medina County Job and Family Services has not filled 10 positions within the last 18 months.
The 2009 budget is about $4 million less than last yearâ€™s $39 million, due to budget cuts triggered by declining tax revenue. The latest figures show sales tax revenues declined by 6 percent for the month of November.
Wood may be reached at 330-721-4050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.