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Trumbull County doesn’t have a temporary budget and can’t spend a cent. What happens now?

Trumbull County commissioners Niki Frenchko (left) and Frank Fuda (right)
Trumbull County commissioners Niki Frenchko (left) and Frank Fuda (right) (Facebook)

Trumbull County government currently has no spending plan.

Commissioners during their Monday reorganizational meeting were set to approve a temporary budget to be used in the first quarter of the year, but that motion died for lack of a second.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa was out sick Monday, leaving commissioners Frank Fuda, who moved to accept the temporary spending plan on the commissioners’ agenda, and Niki Frenchko, who objected to simply “rubber stamping” a budget in the interim, claiming she had no opportunity to offer input on appropriations.

For much of Monday’s hourlong public meeting — which Frenchko livestreamed to her Facebook page — Fuda and Frenchko verbally sparred over meeting order protocols, job delegations and charges of unprofessional conduct in the commissioners’ office.

The board’s apparent dysfunction on Monday left the county without a way to legally spend money, at least until temporary appropriations are approved.

“Until then, we cannot even buy a pencil,” Debbie Santangelo, the county’s chief deputy auditor, told Mahoning Matters on Monday afternoon, most of which she said she spent phoning county Auditor Adrian Biviano and the county prosecutor’s office to figure out the next steps.

“If there’s anything out there that people needed to pay, we cannot pay a thing until this has been passed,” she said.

That includes things like scheduled electronic payments, health insurance claims for employees or necessary spending for county departments like the Mental Health & Recovery Board or the Board of Developmental Disabilities.

County employees’ first pay day of the year is Friday, Jan. 14, Santangelo said. “Hopefully” the spending holdup will be resolved by then, she said. She said officials plan to seek another vote on the budget Wednesday.

Santangelo said she believes it’s the first time the county’s temporary budget has been delayed in her 17 years with the office.

Earlier Monday, Fuda told Mahoning Matters he doesn’t know if the county can move ahead without a temporary budget in place. “Until Mauro gets here, I have no idea,” he said.

Monday’s budget failure is the latest flash point in commissioners’ long-standing acrimonious relationship, which has included official complaints of workplace hostility, according to the Tribune Chronicle.

Frenchko told Mahoning Matters on Monday she’s made numerous requests to have county department spending broken down further, but those requests have been ignored. During Monday’s meeting, Frenchko asked if commissioners’ Clerk Paula Vivoda-Klotz could provide documentation on the agenda’s three budgeting resolutions — including the temporary budget — but Vivoda-Klotz said she was unsure whether the county auditor’s office had finished preparing them.

“I’d ask that you get copies of these before every meeting so we know what we’re voting on,” Frenchko said, noting for the record, “The clerk has not provided or forwarded any of this information for review.”

“I don’t possess it,” Vivoda-Klotz responded.

Fuda suggested Frenchko’s numerous requests are burdensome on county employees and urged Frenchko to communicate with them in person or via phone, rather than by texting or emailing, which “takes a whole lotta time going back and forth.”

While Frenchko on Monday said she feels county officials are purposefully keeping her out of the loop, Fuda accused her of failing to engage with the budget process, as well as missing a December budget meeting.

Frenchko, however, told Mahoning Matters she listened in on that meeting via phone.

Frenchko also claims she only received documentation from county budget hearings until Sunday afternoon, less than a day before the reorganizational meeting. Santangelo told Mahoning Matters those documents were left in Frenchko’s county office, but that Frenchko never picked them up. She also emailed Frenchko a 2022 budget summary on Dec. 30, she said.

Frenchko said she’s “utterly frustrated” that she hasn’t been asked for her input in the process.

“Ideally, the county commissioners should be putting together the budget and telling the departments what they are going to be getting, and only those departments that might not be happy with what they’re receiving should have a hearing at that point,” she said. “It’s an executive function. It’s not the department heads telling us what to spend, nor is it the auditor’s responsibility.

“All I hear is, ‘This is how we’ve always done it.’”

Temporary budgets are common practice for county governments. Many boards approve them the December before they take effect. They give officials a spending plan allowing them to legally pay bills and employees while working out a finalized annual budget for the year, which must be passed before April 1 under state law.

Santangelo said Trumbull commissioners typically approve the first quarter’s temporary budget on the first working day of the year. For 2022, that was Monday. Commissioners usually project to spend 25% of whatever the county spent the prior year, she said.

Santangelo on Monday provided to Mahoning Matters the county’s most recent draft of the 2022 general fund budget — the same one she said was provided to Frenchko. The draft budget projects $54.3 million in expenditures for 2022, $4.3 million more than the county’s actual expenditures in 2021, and $44.5 million in revenue, nearly $2.8 million less than the county actually received in 2021.

During the Monday meeting, Fuda noted the county carried a nearly $9 million surplus into 2022.

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