January 31, 2008

Personnel Feel County’s Deep Budget Cuts

Forced to trim nearly $100,000 from the proposed 2008 fiscal year budget, the Scotland County Commission had to make some difficult decisions, including some unpopular personnel cuts.

“Obviously this isn’t something we wanted to have to do,” said Presiding Commissioner Mike Stephenson. “But the timing is right and it simply is what has to be done.”

Even after trimming $91,344.71 from the proposed budgets, the county is estimating a deficit of as much as $60,000 lowering already dwindling reserves to just $25,000.

The budget, as approved by the Commission this week, is calling for expenditures in the general and law enforcement sales tax categories totaling $836,248. With estimated revenues of $774,194 that will make a big cut into the current balance of a little more than $86,000.

“The past few years we have taken steps to try to make this less dramatic, but you get to a point when there is nothing left to cut except jobs,” said Commissioner Paul Campbell. “Hoping this will get us back to even keel so we don’t have to make similar decisions next year.”

The county had budgeted $865,122 last year and came in $20,000 under budget with actual expenditures of $845,999.

This year’s approved budget falls below that mark by nearly $10,000, but County Clerk Betty Lodewegen noted that last year’s revenues featured several one-time infusions of funds including grants and an insurance settlement. The figure also is highly dependent upon the economy, with as much as $200,000 a year coming from sales tax. The county receives ½ cent for the general fund and ¼ cent for the law enforcement sales tax.

Faced with the bleak picture, the budget eliminated the County Recorder deputy position (a savings of nearly $17,000). It also cut $14,500 from the Sheriff’s Department, effectively eliminating a second deputy position while refocusing some of those funds for additional part-time help. A total of $11,833 was removed from the budget proposed by the Scotland County Extension Office, dropping funding down to the $5,000 level mandated by state statue, which likely will close the office’s regular hours. The county also removed the 40-percent stipend paid for the prosecuting attorney’s second deputy, a cost savings of just over $7,000, and the part-time deputy funding for the county clerk’s office in the amount of $5,000. The personnel cuts also will generate savings of nearly $4,000 in payroll taxes.

“The past two years the office holders have done an excellent job trimming their individual budgets,” said County Clerk Betty Lodewegen who is responsible for compiling the annual budget document. “This year there was just no where else to go to find the savings that were required.”

The county is faced with paying for two elections that has added costs for the 2008 budget. The commission also has budgeted $30,000 to repair the courthouse roof.

“Just like everyone, we are faced with higher prices but also have to deal with concerns about stagnant revenues,” Stephenson stated. “Rock prices went up 35 cents, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.”

This marks the second consecutive year that no pay increases could be authorized for county employees.

“We hope that these cuts combined with a modest growth in sales tax revenue could ultimately allow us to at least offer a cost of living pay increase to the employees,” Stephenson said.

The county does have the option of revisiting the proposed use tax that was on the ballot last year but failed.

“That has the possibility of generating $30,000 to $40,000 in revenue that would definitely help,” the presiding commissioner added.

While it is capped at ½ cent on sales tax for the general fund, the county could ask for an additional ¼ cent tax for the law enforcement levy that would bring it to ½ cent, and could generate an estimated $100,000 in additional revenue to help offset the $220,000 budget for the sheriff’s department and the more than $100,000 combined that is budgeted from the general fund for the prosecuting attorney, juvenile office, and the court system.

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