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Butler officials consider county's 2014 budget options

| Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Butler County commissioners are facing a year filled with serious financial decisions.

They must decide whether to sell Sunnyview Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center and shed hundreds of county employees from the payroll.

Also, contracts for hundreds of employees expire at the end of next year, so negotiations will begin shortly after the start of 2014.

Commissioners are also deciding whether to build an annex onto the government center, a project that could cost at least $10 million. Another project with a big price tag is the $750,000 cost of building a proposed district judge's office in Cranberry.

“We have a lot of projects on our plate,” said Amy Wilson, the county's chief clerk.

County officials are crafting the 2014 budget. Bill McCarrier, chairman of the county commissioners, said it is too early to know if there is a tax increase.

“I don't think so, but it's premature. We are still sorting out a lot of details,” he said.

The county set a Dec. 13 deadline for proposals from companies that might be interested in purchasing Sunnyview.

This year, the 220-bed nursing home has operated on a $20 million budget with about $1.4 million from the county and the rest paid by insurers and patients.

The county could see significant savings if it sells Sunnyview to a private owner. Sunnyview workers constitute one-third of the county workforce.

McCarrier and Commissioner A. Dale Pinkerton set a minimum price tag of $13.5 million for the sale. Commissioners are expected Wednesday to hire an actuary to determine how much money they will have to put into the county's pension fund because of the Sunnyview sale. The county would have to cover the future value of some pensions, but also make up the losses of those who retire and remove their pensions. Minority Commissioner James Eckstein said that could run into the millions of dollars and eat into the profits of the sale.

McCarrier said he's “hopeful” that commissioners won't have to raise taxes for the second year in a row. Citing funding cuts from the state, and a growing deficit at Sunnyview, commissioners voted to raise taxes 1 mill for 2013, the first county property tax increase in about four years.

Eckstein, a Democrat, said he didn't feel that commissioners are doing enough to cut costs. He's long been a proponent of having nonunion workers pay more for their health care premiums.“I don't think we've made the necessary cuts to avoid a tax increase,” Eckstein said. “Our health care costs are going up, and I don't think we've done enough to offset them.”

He added, “We have to get costs under control. We haven't done anything to control costs.”

Commissioners have said some cost increases are out of their control.

McCarrier said union contracts include pay increases, many about 3 percent.

Also, he said, the county is facing an additional $400,000 in health care costs because of the Affordable Care Act.

Staff writer Rick Wills contributed to this report. Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621.

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