February 1, 2007

County Makes Cuts In Sheriff’s Office, Extension Budgets

Even after cutting nearly $100,000 from proposed expenditures in the past weeks, the 2007 budget for Scotland County is expected to eat into the ever shrinking bottom line for the local government.

The proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is projecting another deficit year. The general fund, which covers the courthouse and the sheriff’s department, is the main culprit.

In 2006 the county generated $668,084.94 in revenue and paid $715,403.76 in expenditures through the general fund. That deficit cut the county’s existing balance from $68,547.97 to $21,229.19.

If the 2007 budget pans out as predicted that figure will dwindle even further. While revenues are expected to grow to $733,325 this year for the general fund, expenditures also have grown to $747,535, meaning the county’s balance would decline to just over $7,000.

The bulk of the predicted revenue increase comes in the form of two intergovernmental payments. The county will receive $28,000 from the state to pay for the courthouse renovations as well as $51,000 to fund the newly created county recorder’s office.

Property taxes are expected to grow slightly to around $250,000 with sales tax revenue predicted at $189,000. The remainder of the revenue comes from other intergovernmental exchanges (roughly $100,000) and charges for services ($88,000) plus some miscellaneous income (roughly $25,000).

But despite projected revenue growth, expenditures are again set to surpass that mark. The approved budget projects expenditures to increase from last year’s mark of $712,850 to $747,513 in 2007.

Initial budget requests submitted to the county commission called for expenditures of more than $810,000, forcing the commission and office holders to tighten their belts.

“I want to thank the office holders for their budgets,” said County Clerk Betty Lodewegen the county’s budgeting officer. “None of them asked for anything they didn’t really need. That is what made this budget year extra hard to do. It was very hard to cut budgets when there was not much there to cut. Hopefully our income will be greater than projected and our expenditures will be less.”

The largest budget cut came in the sheriff’s department where the county trimmed more than $26,000 by eliminating the third deputy position ($20,500) and also cutting the overtime budget from $10,000 to $2,000.

Another significant budget cut came in the Extension and Outreach Office. The county cut funding from the 2006 level of $24,209 down to $15,000 in 2007. The move will mean reduced office hours for the program.

The county offices also reduced mileage and training funds across the board.

These moves helped offset the pay increases approved last year by the county salary committee consisting of all of the elected officials.

This year the presiding commission pay rate will increase from $18,797 to $20,056. The county clerk will be paid $27,600 up from $25,489. The other raises going into effect this year are treasurer (up from $23,668 to $27,600) and prosecuting attorney (up from $30,200 to $34,960). In 2009 pay hikes will go into effect for the associate commissioners, sheriff, coroner, assessor and public administrator.

Presiding commissioner Mike Stephenson, who along with commissioner Win Hill and clerk Betty Lodewegen, voted against the pay hikes, said the decision looks even worse now.

“I didn’t vote for the pay raises then, and now it makes the budgeting process even more difficult,” he said. “It looks pretty bad when these pay raises are required by the salary commission action, but then we cannot even afford to give the employees a cost of living pay increase.”

The budgeting process was difficult enough that the county may have to consider seeking a sales tax increase in the future.

“We haven’t gone to the people since 1992, but revenues have not kept up with the rising costs of doing business,” Stephenson said. “I would hate to see us have to do that. I feel like we should be able to run this government with the money we have.”

The sales tax levy can be a full cent. Currently the county takes just ½ cent for general revenue and ¼ cent for law enforcement, leaving ¼ cent under the tax cap.

“If revenue doesn’t grow and we wish to maintain the current services the county provides its residents, then one day they may be faced with the request for that final ¼ of penny sales tax,” Stephenson said. “But right now we are making due with what we have.”

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