MANSFIELD – Richland County’s first-quarter investment income is up this year compared to the first three months of 2019. However, the first official estimate from the state of sales tax revenues show the county could lose up to 6.5% — or about $2.5 million — in general fund dollars because of the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
County treasurer Bart Hamilton told the county Investment Advisory Board and the Richland County Commissioners on Tuesday that he paid $511,697 in general fund interest into the general fund as of March 31, which is $65,977 more compared to last year. Total interest earned for all funds was $522,401, or $62,371 over one year ago, with the rate of return on investments at 1.95%.
Hamilton also pointed out that interest rates have dropped significantly with Star Ohio, the state fund that is the county’s main investment vehicle. The interest rate one year ago was 2.54% but was at 0.79% as of Tuesday.
“Where is the bottom going to go? Your guess is as good as mine because so many things are happening right now,” Hamilton said. “The investments we have made since the end of March, we’re trying to get longer term investments, trying to get as much rate coverage as we can in a declining market.”
Commissioner Tony Vero, who sits on the advisory board with Hamilton and Commissioner Darrell Banks, reported that the county received the first data as to what the March sales tax collection will be. The Ohio Department of Taxation indicated it will be down about 11%.
“This could change if this opens up and people start spending their stimulus money and their income tax refunds but my gut tells me we’re probably going to be about 6% short on revenues for the year,” Vero said.
Commissioners’ chairman Marilyn John said she reviewed county data from the 2008 recession which showed revenue fell 11% from 2008 to 2009. “When you factor in the drop in the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) we are just a little over half the drop of what the GDP was in 2008 so when you that in it comes close to the 6 to 6.5%,” she said. “To me, the numbers in that report just back up what we could be looking at and that’s between $2 million and $2.5 million.”
John called the figures a “good start on revenue prediction” that will allow commissioners to begin talks with department heads about what needs to be done before the end of the year. Hamilton pointed out that second quarter figures will give officials a better idea of where finances are going.
“It’s May and things are beginning to open back up in May so it will depend on how quickly we get back to any kind of normal semblance of life and it might depend on restaurants,” he said. “I’m guardedly optimistic. We just have to see.”
Vote on Willow Haven Park
In other action Tuesday, commissioners held a public hearing and approved a petition by the Washington Township Trustees to vacate Willow Haven Park, off Mansfield-Lucas Road south of Interstate 71, as a public park in anticipation of selling the property at auction. Trustees asked commissioners in November for help in dealing with several tracts of land that were designated by developers as township parks but were never accepted as parks by the township.
Tammy Garber, president of the Willow Park Water Association, was concerned about the sale, which is required by state law, because the association has a well house building on the property that includes several water tanks. Garber told the board she researched the property title and found documents that indicate the association owns the land.
“When I became president, I had documents, that I showed the trustees, from the Mansfield Metropolitan Park Association dating back from 1958 that they gave us the property and we have been taking care of the land, the maintenance of it,” she said. “I’m afraid, along with other people who live here, that if somebody else comes in and they purchase the land they can charge us rent for our well house.”
Commissioners said they will ask the county prosecutor’s office to review the documents before they set an auction date.
“I think this has been looked at and, legally, we (the county) are the owners but I think you guys probably will be one of the more interested parties even if we get to the public bidding process,” Vero said.
Commissioners also accepted a $458,242 bid from Earthworm Construction LLC of Iberia for the chip and seal program on county roads this summer. Earthworm submitted the lowest figure of five companies that bid on the work, which the county engineer’s office estimated would cost $462,133.
On a COVID-19 related issue, commissioners responded to a question from Clerk of Courts Lyn Frary, who asked if county employees who go out of state for summer vacations will have to be quarantined for 14 days when they return. Based on a May 7 bulletin from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and this week’s update from the governor’s office, the board said employees have to be quarantined. Those who cannot work from home or telework, can be required to use vacation leave, personal leave or comp time during the quarantine period or be placed on leave without pay.
“If they have a job where they can work from home, quarantine is easy,” John said. “It’s up to the elected officials as to how their departments will be handled.”
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