The first-quarter review of finances for Summit County reveals the general fund is up 2.7 percent compared to a year ago.

But county officials say even though the county is in better financial shape than expected, they will still have to dip into the reserve fund to balance the budget by the end of the year.

“The single biggest reason for this quarter’s growth is casino taxes at $625,000,” said Brian Nelsen, the director of finance and budget for the county. “I mean that alone is more than the whole difference between this year and last in the first quarter.”

The state’s share of casino taxes weren’t available in the first three months of last year. The projected target for casino tax revenue for the year is $2.9 million.

When voters approved the opening of four casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati, it called for 51 percent of the gross tax on gambling receipts to go into a pot that would be distributed to counties and large cities. The revenue is distributed quarterly.

There was also a growth in sales and property transfer taxes.

The growth in sales tax is 6 percent over last year and a 47 percent growth in property transfer taxes, which can be attributed to the value of properties increasing.

Nelsen said despite the growth, the county still struggles from the effects of the recession and state budget cuts.

“We had a 40 percent reduction in local government funding that offsets a lot of that growth. The big negative in revenue was the nearly $900,000 drop in local government revenue,” he said.

The local government fund was a pot of money that the state sent to local governments by sharing a percentage of sales and income taxes collected by the state.

“Two years ago, the state cut local government funding to counties, cities and libraries by 50 percent to balance the state budget,” Nelsen said. “In other words, they started keeping more of our money.”

On the expense side, Nelsen said the county is keeping an eye on attorney fees for indigents. So far those fees are running about 12 percent over of budget for the year because of high-profile cases including the trial of Craigslist killer Richard Beasley.

Officials say capital murder trials tend to drive up attorney fees.

“Despite all of the good news with revenues growing, we are significantly below where we were prior to the recession in 2008 and still projecting the need to use some of our reserve balance to balance the budget for this year,” Nelsen said.

The county started out this year with about $29 million in reserve compared to a $55 million reserve prior to 2008.

Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or mmiller@thebeaconjournal.com.