Supervisors get early look at potential county cuts

The county government needs to apply the same level of scrutiny to its budget that the Board of Supervisors has asked the school system to apply to its spending plan, Supervisors Chairman Dan Gecker said last week.

“We’ve asked these nice folks [on the schools side] to really show everything they’re doing and justify every penny spent,” Gecker said, and the county side should do the same thing.

At a meeting of the budget and audit committee last week, Allan Carmody, the county’s budget and management director, said the value of all real restate was projected to decline 3.9 percent, or $1.3 billion, in the 2010 tax year. Budget planners are looking for another decline in 2011, with total residential and commercial values projected to drop 2 percent and 8 percent, respectively, he said.

County Administrator Jay Stegmaier said “both of those levels [estimated for 2011] make me a little bit nervous.”

“I’m not sure we’re going to be that good,” he said.

Personal property tax revenues were projected to grow by 2 percent this fiscal year, and are expected to rise 2.5 percent in fiscal 2011, according to a presentation given at the meeting. Budget planners are looking for about a 2 percent drop in sales tax revenue next year, Carmody said. State funding is expected to drop in most areas.

If the tax rate remains unchanged next year, real estate tax revenues would fall by $8.7 million. The overall projected revenue decline is $25.1 million, Carmody said, and another $4.7 million in cuts is needed to offset increased costs in some areas.

To eliminate the nearly $30 million gap, budget planners have proposed reducing the county’s transfer of funds to the school system by about $13.2 million, cutting $14.1 million in general government spending and instituting a recycling fee recommended by the Citizen Recycling Advisory Committee, which would raise $2.5 million, he said.

The proposed county budget is still being refined in some areas, he said. Since public safety is a priority, funding for its operations are targeted to drop only 1 percent in fiscal 2011, Carmody said. But, minimizing cuts in that area results in proportionally bigger cuts in other areas.

The proposed department-specific and county-wide cuts total about $14.1 million, but the proposed budget will likely also include “revenue enhancements” in the form of tax or fee increases, he said.

 “We have a list, a fairly detailed list, of the specific cuts,” Stegmaier said. “That list is changing on a daily basis.”

It’s clear the administration has an idea of where to trim spending, Gecker said, but “it would be nice to see how it squares with that the board has in mind.” Vice Chairman Jim Holland said he didn’t see the appropriate cuts proposed, and he had the same problem with the school system’s proposed budget.

Stegmaier said the staff could go through the details of the proposed reductions at the committee’s Feb. 16 meeting. Gecker said he wanted detail on proposed non-program related cuts, program related cuts and which programs were spared.

Stegmaier noted that the budget the county’s working on will leave its work force 10 percent smaller next year than it was two years ago. Gecker said that was a nice statistic, but it still begged the question: “Are we spending the money on the right stuff?”

The committee’s Feb. 16 meeting is set to begin at 10 a.m.

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