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Butler County commissioners split over spending plan

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 11:48 p.m.

Butler County Commissioner James Eckstein said on Wednesday that he identified more than $1 million in savings and additional income that could help avoid a 2-mill real estate tax increase for 2013, but another commissioner said Eckstein's figures are wrong.

Eckstein, the Democratic minority commissioner, said he'd be willing to raise real estate taxes 1 mill because of projected operating shortfalls at Sunnyview, the county's nursing home, and the emergency services center. But he said the county should cut spending to keep any increase as low as possible.

“This is a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” Eckstein said.

Some of those savings could be achieved by making some employees pay more for health care coverage, reducing sick days and making other changes in county benefits, Eckstein said.

He said the county should collect more than double the $890,000 in Marcellus shale impact fee money it received this year.

But Commissioner A. Dale Pinkerton said some of the savings Eckstein recommended, such as increased health care premiums, can't simply be implemented because of union contracts that last a couple more years. And the state won't pay next year's Marcellus shale money until late in 2013, he said.

“How do you spend $890,000 you don't have?” Pinkerton said. “I'm certainly concerned about the future of Butler County if we follow in his footsteps.”

Commissioners are set to vote on a final budget on Dec. 27.

Eckstein and Controller Jack McMillin rejected raises for a few administrative assistants during the county's salary board, saying they were concerned about parity among comparable positions. They said they were awaiting the results of a salary study that's due in April. Pinkerton and Commission Chairman Bill McCarrier said Eckstein agreed to the raises, but Eckstein said he changed his mind after talking with McMillin.

Commissioners gave nearly 170 management and nonunion employees 2 percent raises, which they said were less than the 3 percent most union employees receive. Eckstein said that saved the county about $86,000.

Commissioners said they'd like to hire a Butler lawyer by the end of the year as county solicitor to replace Julie Graham, who will retire in February.

They said Mike English, 46, of Zelienople, an associate with Dillon, McCandless, King, Coulter & Graham, has experience negotiating union contracts.

Commissioners said they wanted to decide by the weekend. The county received four applications.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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