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Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Mercer County finances looking good

Sales tax revenue, casino money boost local coffers

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - Mercer County's coffers are plentiful thanks to increases in sales tax revenue and casino tax dollars.
A few gray clouds remain, such as rising indigent defense expenses in a pending capital murder case and higher health insurance premiums, but overall the county appears to be in good shape financially, commissioner Jerry Laffin said Tuesday.
"The most (revenue) increases were in sales tax and casino money," he told elected and appointed county officials at a meeting in the courthouse auditorium.
General fund revenue from January through September is up nearly $500,000 over the same period in 2012, and it is expected to exceed expenditures for 2013. Expenses during the nine-month period, compared with 2012, increased $853,607. However, a revenue total of $8.1 million to date overshadows the county's $7.5 million in expenses.
Laffin told department heads that sales tax revenue is up 6.3 percent or $229,495 for the first 10 months of the year compared with 2012. Casino tax dollars for the county - which are below state projections - increased $355,827 over last year; not all four gambling venues were fully operational in 2012. 
County leaders were warned that legal fees could climb into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for attorneys representing the indigent defendants charged in the murders of Robert and Colleen Grube of Fort Recovery in November 2011. Counties are required under the Ohio Revised Code to foot the bill for attorney fees and related expenses when indigence is proven; approximately 30 percent of the cost is reimbursed by the state.
Other large expenses expected in the coming year are ongoing software upgrade payments, work on the courthouse and Central Service Building parking lots, replacement of the air conditioning system in the Central Service Building and various courthouse improvements for security. No dollar amounts were provided.
Medical insurance premiums for the county's more than 200 employees is increasing about $74,000, which will be paid from the general fund. The employee share in 2014 will remain at 10 percent for individuals and 12.5 percent for families - both below the industry average of 14 percent.
Single coverage next year will cost an employee $22.11 per pay period; family coverage is $78.45.
Three percent of the insurance premium increase is due to mandates in the Affordable Care Act. Also causing premiums to rise is a 113.5 percent spike in medical claims from 2012 to 2013, Laffin said.
"We had the highest number of claims in the pool," county clerk-administrator Kim Everman said, referring to the self-insured group that includes Mercer, Van Wert, Auglaize, Shelby and Hancock counties. "The majority of the premium cost is based on the claims we have."
Laffin also explained that in January all full-time workers must clock 30 hours per week, instead of the current 25 hours, to be eligible for benefits. Employees already enrolled in the benefit plan by Dec. 31 are grandfathered and can keep their 25-hour eligibility status, he added.
The county this year has filed two Bureau of Workers Compensation claims but no loss time. In 2012, 10 claims were filed. Laffin asked the crowd to continue promoting safety measures for employees.
"We're coming into winter. Our custodians work hard to keep the sidewalks clear. Have your employees use them" instead of taking alleys that aren't shoveled, he explained. "Watch yourselves in the parking lots."
Since 2009, the county has reduced BWC premium costs by an estimated 30 percent by filing fewer claims.
Laffin also noted county leaders will begin meeting with commissioners in mid-November to discuss appropriations for 2014. Wage increases will be considered in January, he added.
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