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County cuts good start, but not enough

Without question Trumbull County will feel the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic through significant loss of revenue.

We were pleased last week to see Trumbull County commissioners ask department heads to submit plans to cut 10 percent from each of their budgets. Indeed, that is a step in the right direction, but one that won’t be enough to stop impending fiscal shortfalls.

Job loss, stay-at-home orders and reduced consumer spending, all triggered by the COVID-19 virus, continues to drastically impact our economy. More than 1 million Ohioans have experienced job loss, surpassing any other period of job loss on record.

Closures of Eastwood Mall and other retail establishments, auto dealerships, restaurants and other businesses will mean significantly less sales tax revenue. Courts are collecting less money, and fewer building permits are being pulled. Likewise, travel has halted, meaning hotel bed tax revenue will be virtually non-existent. The closure of Ohio’s casinos and low interest rates dragging down returns on the county’s investments also will hit hard.

Despite all these declines in revenue, until now, Trumbull County commissioners have made no move to cut workers or budgets.

They still have made no moves to cut personnel costs and, in fact, have said they are considering new hires to fill vacant positions designated as “essential.”

Last week, Commissioner Frank Fuda said he thinks the county should avoid laying off county workers.

Government officials never should maintain an attitude that it’s their job to keep people on the public payroll. Rather, the duty of government is to provide essential services to taxpayers, not to safeguard the jobs of the people they employ.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa has maintained that no new people will be hired unless it is deemed essential.

We agree, but extend that argument that, in these times of uncertainty, no positions should be filled.

Even this week, job candidates were being interviewed for two positions in the sanitary engineer’s office.

It’s true that office is funded largely by utility fees paid by customers, not county sales tax revenue. However, during the pandemic, county officials waived water shutoffs, possibly triggering reduced utility collections. The effects are not yet known.

Commissioner Dan Polivka said that so long as financial effects of COVID-19 on the county’s sales tax revenue remain unknown, he will not vote for any new hires. He also said he believes it is the right time to seek voluntary employee layoffs. We agree.

And before county leaders start to put their hope in any kind of a state or federal bailout, they should consider statements made Tuesday by Gov. Mike DeWine.

That was when DeWine announced plans to slash $775 million from the state budget as a result of COVID-19. The cuts in areas including education and Medicaid spending take effect immediately and run through June 30, the last day of the state’s 2020 fiscal year.

“If we don’t make these cuts now, the cuts we will make next year will be more dramatic,” DeWine said. He added that he won’t tap into the state’s $2.7 billion rainy day fund now because that surplus is going to be needed for the next budget year, beginning July 1.

“We should not use that rainy day fund until we have to,” DeWine said.

“The cruel nature of an economic downturn is that at the time of when you are in need of the social safety net is also the time when government revenues shrink. We are trying to preserve basic services for people while we get through this period.”

DeWine’s reasoning is sound.

Likewise, Trumbull County officials must retract their spending immediately.

Commissioners and county department heads must be prepared to make difficult decisions involving forced layoffs, halting all hiring and significant cuts in other spending.

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