Fulton County officials won’t begin to know until mid-summer how long it may take the county to recover financially from the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the county currently holds a healthy fund balance and reserves, sales tax estimates for 2020 are likely to plunge and other revenue sources have already slowed, according to Administrator Vond Hall. The county maintains the majority of its general fund through sales tax.
“The earlier we start slowing down county spending, the more impact it’s going to have for us. We are scrutinizing each and every purchase and will continue to throughout this emergency,” he said.
Responsible management has kept the county budget strong, Hall said. But the economic downturn brought on by Ohio’s efforts to curb COVID-19 has resulted in a slowdown of engineer’s tax receipts, hotel lodging taxes, and transportation fees, and less casino revenue. State-issued local government funds, which depend on state tax revenues, are also expected to drop.
Hall said the county has yet to experience revenue loss to the pandemic, since the state has a total of 60 days from the end of a given month in which to receive and disperse funds from sales tax collections to local governments.
He said steps have been taken to restrict non-essential travel by county employees and to limit hiring to essential positions that need to be filled. However, depending on the amount of forthcoming revenue reductions, the county may have to lay off employees.
It’s not known whether revenue decreases caused by the coronavirus pandemic will affect county services or programs. Hall said it’s also not known how significantly a county shortfall will impact residents.
County reserve funds are saved to offset a potential decline in tax revenues, Hall said. “This is why local governments need to conservatively budget, manage within the budget, and, when possible, build an adequate reserve fund to manage through unforeseen financial impact that may arise,” he said.
County Commissioner Bill Rufenacht said the county is currently in good financial condition, but a drop in revenue due to the pandemic is inevitable. He said the county has taken caution by initiating some hiring freezes and placing some capital projects on hold.
“If we’re back going full blast by the first of July we’ll be able to get through this with no major cuts,” Rufenacht said. “Beyond July, we’ll have to take a look at the whole thing.”
Hall added, “Mid-summer we will have a much better understanding to address the question.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.