By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
An increase in the cost of arresting, prosecuting, and housing criminals is part of the reason why Lucas County officials expect to spend $33 million more next year than in 1997.
The 1998 budget, which was passed yesterday by the Lucas County board of commissioners, includes a big increase for the prosecutor’s office, where funding will rise 11 per cent, up to $3.8 million in 1998.
County payments to the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio will jump 12.7 per cent to $3.1 million.
Sandy Isenberg, president of the board of commissioners, said the increases are brought on by more community policing by sheriff’s deputies and new Ohio sen tencing guidelines that keep criminals in prison longer.
Another increase will be triggered by the Jan. 1 switch in the county’s 911 system.
Overall, spending is expected to rise from $411.5 million this year to $444.6 million next year, an 8 per cent increase.
Commissioners said the approval is historic because it occurred before the new fiscal year started.
“This is a very momentous occasion,” Ms. Isenberg said. “This has never been done before, and it will mean a prosperous 1998.”
Approving the budget early gives county officials a headstart on planning new hires and new purchases for 1998.
In previous years, commissioners approved a temporary budget before year’s end, then waited until up to three months into the new year before passing the final plan.
“This way, the departments know what they can buy or spend when the year starts,” commissioner Mark Pietrykowski said.
The 1998 budget calls for county revenue to cross the half-billion-dollar mark for the first time, projecting $503.8 million of revenues.
“I think these numbers bode well for our future,” Ms. Isenberg said. “These are good economic times, and we’re in a good position for the bad days when they come.”
Most of that excess money is not available for expenses and has been committed to use over the next few years.
The general fund, which the commis sioners fully control, anticipates revenues of $111,907,388 in 1998 and expenses of $111,857,175.
Commissioners gave credit for the early passage to the Office of Management and Budget, headed by director John Zeitler.
In the last several years, the number of agency budget analysts has gone from two to four, giving staff time to finalize budget figures earlier.
The agency’s budget increased as well, from $284,000 in 1996 to $480,000 allocated in next year’s budget.
In other action, the commissioners heard the first estimated price tags for a new communications facility that will house, among others, the county’s 911 operators.
The two sites under consideration are at 711 Adams St. and 2144 Monroe St.
The first has been coveted by Children Services Board and judicial officials as possible expansion space.
The second is the current site of county 911 operators and would need to be expanded to house a consolidated calling center.
An architectural study has put the price of renovating 711 Adams St. at $1.3 million.
Renovating the Monroe Street location, which also would include the construction of a 75,000-square-foot annex, would cost $2.2 million.
Ms. Isenberg said she was leaning toward the Monroe location, but believed the pricetag must be lowered.
A decision on the site will be made by the end of January.
Mr. Pietrykowski said he hopes to be in the new facility by the end of 1998.
“This is at least a 20, 25-year decision on a permanent building,” county administrator John Alexander said. “We’re not going to rush into it.”
Ms. Isenberg said she expects problems with the Jan. 2 move of city operators to the Alarm Building downtown.
“I think there will be some bugs, but I’m looking forward to an easy transition,” she said.
The budget allocates $845,000 for Recreation Center improvements and $400,000 for building improvements aimed at increasing compliance with the Americans with Disabilites Act.