High in the Sky

Sandwiched between two icons of Athens — the courthouse clock tower and Lady Justice — city employees do general maintenance work the roof of Athens County Courthouse.

Athens County Auditor Jill Thompson is predicting that the County’s sales tax revenue will dip further than previous predictions indicated, based on the current economic and social climate of Ohio.

In late April, Thompson presented preliminary projections of the county’s budget. A large portion of revenue is collected through permissive taxes, such as sales tax, but Thompson noted an unusually strong first quarter may help the county slide through without too much financial hardship.

“I’ll be honest, when I looked at (the budget) I thought ‘oh I was expecting these cuts to be a little more severe,’ and that’s another reason why I wanted to share it with you early,” Thompson said at a Commissioner meeting in late April. “I do expect (the budget predictions) to be a living, working document.”

At the time, Thompson had projected that the county would need to reduce its sales tax budget by 4.67 percent, or by about $650,000. Now, she says that estimate may need to be increased by a further 4 percent.

“I don’t see any change right now in general tax,” she said. “On the permissive, that’s probably the most significant one and certainly our largest source of revenue.”

She noted that preliminary estimates from the County Commissioner Association of Ohio and the state government have given preliminary estimates, but the numbers are based on 2019 receipts, which Thompson says are not correct.

“I’m skeptical of the estimates,” she said. “I just want to be cautious at this point.”

The County Auditor said she has rolled back June, July and August’s collection numbers by 25 percent, and September by 10 percent to allow for the lower collection rates.

“Then I’m going back to a full collection as what we had in FY19 for the last quarter, assuming students will be back and OU will be open,” she said. “Now again, that might be over-optimistic. But that’s what I’m currently estimating, and I guess we wait and see how that second quarter comes in, but I’m basically reducing our estimate by 4 percent on the sales tax.”

The county’s local government funds are still up in the air as the state looks at how much funding it has to allocate and where it would best be issued. Thompson noted that in April, the county collected 89 percent of the estimated property conveyance fees forecasted, and in May, only 63 percent of the estimate.

However, it’s still a bright spot due to a lag in the collection, and Thompson said she’s anticipating that the real estate market will be good.

“When we pulled our actual number of sales and our dollar amount of sales, we’re up on both columns up for the year,” she said. “So I’m optimistic about that, and with reopening I expect those numbers to go up, and with our mortgage rates so low, I’m expecting that we may have more people buying than we would have in another cycle.”

She also noted that to her knowledge, the Athens County Treasurer Ric Wasserman will maintain the current interest rate for the county.

Load comments