As of Tuesday the county’s preliminary figures showed a projected revenue of $20,340,000 and expenditures of $20,867,000.
With legal requirements, the county needs to have a budget ready by late November and it must balance.
With a $500,000 gap with the preliminary expenditure versus revenue columns, obviously more work is needed. It was noted Tuesday that the county has roughly $500,000 in contingency funds included in this budget. Looking at options they could make more cuts, gain revenue through a tax increase or lower the amount they want to hold in contingency.
The commissioners indicated they want some amount left in the contingency fund in case of bad winter weather, equipment issues or possibly to delay drawing against future tax collections (using a Tax Anticipation Note or TAN).
County CFO Faye Harvey said several departments are running well below budget for this year and savings from this year can offset costs next year, but they won’t know how much until they rectify the books for 2013 and they must pass a 2014 budget before that is done. Although, they certainly could incorporate the savings before setting tax rates next year.
Barnes said in the most recent meeting that he wants to see if they “could whittle a little more.”
But as the commissioners continued to discuss possible cuts they acknowledged the problem with the fat-trimming is finding anywhere to cut with 90-92 percent of county tax dollars going for personnel, (salaries, benefits and workers’ compensation insurance).
Jones said the majority of the expenditures and the increases are in insurance or worker’s compensation.
“We’re not doling out raises or buying equipment,” he said.
When asked at the October 29th hearing if they have a starting goal of where they want to see the 2014 budget compared to this year, whether it be flat, up some percentage or down, Jones said, not really. He said during this preliminary round of budget hearings they are asking department heads much what the man asked Barnes, “can you justify what you are asking for?”
“We want to see good logic,” he said. “Why do you need to raise this item or why can’t you cut this?”
When pressed Jones said with the rise in insurance costs, he hopes to see a final budget for 2014 not more than 2 percent to 3 percent higher than this year’s spending.
“With insurance and workman’s comp, unless you fire someone how do you cut?” he asked.
There are 400 employees in county government, including sheriff officers and fire crews. Of these around 280 are full-time (receiving benefits and insurance).
During a couple of department head presentations: Clerk of Court Gail Brown was pressed sharply about the possibility of making cuts to her personnel. According to facts presented during the preliminary round, the Magistrate and Probate courts are now handling duties formerly covered by the clerk’s office, decreasing that department’s workload. Brown responded at the earlier hearing there is a massive amount of paperwork that still must be done, all her employees are cross-trained to handle many duties and they give excellent customer service.
At the November 5 meeting, the commissioners did roll back the salary portion of the clerk’s office from her requested $524,000 back to $502,000 and asked that Brown be notified they were making that cut.
At the Oct. 29th meeting, the commissioners discussed how the sheriff’s budget was up slightly, but he is operating well below what was budgeted for this year. At issue among discussion that day was the number of vehicles the sheriff maintains for court officers at the courthouse.
Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver presented a budget that was up only very slightly even though she had added one new court to handle mental illness cases which produces a tremendous savings with jail and law enforcement costs. Mentally ill inmates are the most expensive to house and any time she can deal with them outside the jail, it saves money for the county, according to Weaver’s presentation.
She said the new court has been very effective.
The commissioners indicated they would like to have a proposed budget ready to present by November 21st so that it could be advertised and adopted during December.