County to receive cash from state

WARREN — Sometime before the end of this month, the state is writing a check to Trumbull County for nearly $2 million to make up for a loss in sales tax revenue caused by a change in the way the federal government allows Medicaid providers to be taxed.

It will send a second installment for the same amount early next year, according to a letter Trumbull County commissioners received from County Commissioners Association of Ohio.

The $3.9 million payment will get the county through about a year-and-a-half of missing the tax, Trumbull County commissioners said.

And after that?

“The key thing to figure out now is how do we find a sustainable revenue source to make up for the loss of that money in the future,” said commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa.

Frank Fuda, president of the board, said he is relieved the county will see the money, but, “We have a lot of expenses and if we want to keep going, we can’t wait a year to figure out what to do. We have decisions to make now. The toughest part of this job is making financial decisions and we have some decisions coming up that aren’t going to be easy.”

The county relied on about $2 million per year from the sales tax paid by Medicaid Managed Care Organizations, which they’ve been allowed to collect since 2009. A 2014 decision from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declared the practice to be no longer permissible.

Ohio’s county governments and local transit authorities collectively face a shortfall of more than $200 million because of the decision.

Fuda said the county could face downsizing if the state doesn’t plan to continue the reimbursements and the county doesn’t find a way to generate more revenue.

A list of 19 recommendations made to the county by the Trumbull County Citizen Budget Review Committee suggested 18 ways for the county to save or generate more money before the county resorts to raising the sales tax.

Steps are being taken to implement some of those ideas, the commissioners said — like pushing for less costly benefits in labor negotiations, savings on utility services and combining positions when possible.

The all-volunteer committee said their recommendations could save $2 million.

However, Fuda said he doesn’t think the plan will generate the savings predicted in the report and some of the suggestions would make Trumbull County an unappealing place to work.

“We’ve been over these recommendations and while we appreciate the work the committee put in, I don’t think there is enough there. Taking away benefits isn’t really in our hands, that is in the hands of the negotiators and if we start taking away all of these benefits, no one would want to work here anymore. Why would they?” Fuda said.

Members of the committee, Stephen Stoyak and Mike Matas, said earlier this month they hadn’t seen as much action on their suggestions as they would have liked.

Commissioner Dan Polivka said Fuda’s suggestions amount to scare tactics.

“(Fuda) has been championing imposing a tax on the taxpayers and threatening layoffs for the past two years. I just want the public to have accurate information and not misleading information. The easy thing to do is to impose a tax as Mr. Fuda has been championing for two years and threatening layoffs. But I think the people are taxed quite high on property taxes, federal taxes, income taxes and sales taxes. Taxpayers want accountability and to do more with less, which is what we have been doing,” Polivka said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is working on a 2018-2019 budget plan that, if approved by Ohio legislators, would implement a new tax replacement plan. In December, the state received federal approval for the plan that would fully replace the cash the state and counties are losing. Instead of a sales tax, Medicaid Managed Care Organizations would pay a tax of $26 to $56 per month and non-Medicaid major medical MCOs would pay $1 to $2 per month, according to Kasich’s budget plan.