Key county budget talks get under way

October 3, 2009
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As county commissioners recently adopted budgets for six funds that are also supported with state revenue, members of the Finance Committee begin their review this week of the county’s largest fund.

Going into these deliberations, the budget for the general fund is tentatively marked at roughly $168 million for the county’s upcoming fiscal year that will start Jan. 1.

About $136.6 million of that total is targeted to cover the normal services the county provides to residents, while $31.3 million from that budget will go to other budgets, such as the six funds the county shares with the state.

Nearly $28.4 million of the $31 million has already been allocated to those funds because the budgets on are the state’s fiscal-year calendar, which began last Thursday. (See chart.)

But committee members and county commissioners have some painful decisions to make over the next few months regarding the general fund because if they continue services at the present level, the 2010 fund will be about $15 million short of revenue. So some services are likely to be reduced and some positions are likely to be eliminated by year’s end to decrease expenditures.

For instance, 32 jobs have tentatively been targeted to be done away with in the Sheriff’s Department. A handful of employees whose jobs are on the chopping block recently told commissioners what being laid off would mean for them and for the department, and they asked the board to find other ways to cut the budget, which totals $62.3 million this year.

One non-employee who spoke then was Oakfield Township Supervisor William Dean. Dean, whose wife works in the department and is also targeted to lose her job, told county commissioners they have a responsibility to protect county workers and that the job cuts are aimed too strongly at lower-level workers.

“Let’s get up top,” he said, adding that he would have made the same comment if his wife wasn’t a county employee.

Dean also said he voted for last year’s renewal of the county’s corrections and detention millage because he was under the impression that jobs wouldn’t be eliminated in the Sheriff’s Department if the measure was approved by voters, which it was.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. “I pay out tax dollars and a promise gets broken.”

Commissioner Brandon Dillon said the board has to be fiscally responsible, meaning that spending has to be cut without raising taxes, and he admitted that the general fund couldn’t be balanced without eliminating jobs. But he also wants the board to define what constitutes an emergency in order to determine under what conditions money in the emergency fund could be spent. In short, he was asking whether those dollars could be spent to hold off the layoffs from next year’s budget.

“I think there are some options out there and we have to be creative,” said Dillon.

Commissioner Dean Agee, who also chairs the Finance Committee, said he agreed with Dillon about the county needing to be fiscally responsible, but he also cautioned that the board has to be careful in defining an emergency. Agree said the financial situation isn’t going to get better anytime soon and the county has to be careful about spending the emergency dollars too soon.

County commissioners are scheduled to adopt the 2010 general fund Dec. 10.

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