Calling budget “difficult” is an understatement, county staffer says

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County and school officials continued work on the fiscal 2011 spending plan last week in preparation for this week’s divisional budget presentations.

Budget and Management Director Allan Carmody reiterated the difficulty of this year’s budget process at the start of last week’s meeting of the budget and audit committee.

“To say it’s difficult is even an understatement, I think, given what we’ve been working through,” he said.

The county made an effort early in the process to “make the community aware of what we’re facing,” Carmody said, and “the feedback we heard was pretty clear.” Public safety and education were among the most important things to people who live and work here, he said.

The public safety budget is projected to drop by about $100,000 in fiscal 2011, which is less than 0.1 percent of its $129.9 budget for fiscal 2010. Locally generated funding for education is expected to drop about 1.7 percent, from $249.4 million in fiscal 2010 to $245.2 million next year, according to information Carmody presented at the meeting.

School Board Chairman David Wyman pointed out that the $245.2 million projected for the schools next year includes the $12 million the school has saved in recent years. Without that one-time funding, he said, the school’s percent change in funding would have been greater.

County Administrator Jay Stegmaier said that theme carried throughout the budget, and without savings and other such funding, the county’s roughly $35 million revenue shortfall would be about $20 million bigger.

The fiscal 2011 budget includes proposals to close county libraries one day a week and close Waste and Resource Recovery convenience centers two days a week. Carmody said “the philosophy here is we want to preserve the quality of service, even tough there may be reductions in the availability of that service.” The county’s Parks and Recreation Department is looking to convert its adult, historical, outdoor nature and adventure programming to a self-sustaining model.

The county’s view of the state budget has changed on a daily basis, Stegmaier said.

“That’s one of the difficulties of this budget. We don’t know where it’s going,” he said. About 6.6 percent has been cut from the general fund budget from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2011, he said, but the county has also had to absorb rising costs in areas such as health care and fuel.

The county is seeing a downsizing in the number of positions to serve the community, Carmody said. According to information presented at the meeting, 154 full-time and 118 part-time general fund positions have been eliminated from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2011.

Now, the county really doesn’t have any more positions, on a per capita basis, than it did 15 years ago, Stegmaier said.

“It did grow,” he said, “but we’ve cut to the point that we were at in the mid-90s.”

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