Another deficit for key county budget

February 26, 2010
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Kent County unveiled its “starting point” figures for the 2011 general fund at a commissioners’ work session last week. An early peek shows that revenues will be down and expenses will be up from the current budget.

“These (numbers) will be subject to refinement over the next six to eight months,” said Daryl Delabbio, county administrator and controller.

That refinement could amount to as much as $10.6 million — $8.6 million in spending cuts and a $2 million infusion from the fund’s reserve.

Total revenue to the general fund, which pays for most of the services the county offers, is estimated at $164 million — about $1 million short of this year’s expected total. The expense estimate is $174.6 million, nearly $7 million higher than this year.

County Fiscal Services Director Steve Duarte told commissioners that roughly $8.6 million will have to be eliminated from the expense side of the ledger just to get the fund’s deficit to $2 million, which will then be covered by the fund balance.

“I’m still trying to figure out how to make this fun,” said Duarte, while adding that expenditures may have to be cut by $12 million for the 2012 budget.

Duarte pointed out that the biggest revenue decline to the fund next year will come from the Revenue Sharing Reserve account, as only $6.1 million is estimated — 40 percent less than the $10.3 million the budget expects this year. After a four-year hiatus, the county is to begin receiving revenue sharing payments from the state in 2011. But Duarte cautioned commissioners that the county may only get 50 cents of every dollar it is entitled to receive.

What makes the situation with Lansing a bit worse is that the state hasn’t paid the county for housing arrestees at the jail since October, Duarte said.

“It’s in the millions of dollars now, that I don’t think we’re ever going to get,” said Commissioner Art Tanis. Commission Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish urged board members to contact their state representatives to get the bill paid.

Duarte also said the estimate has property-tax revenue rising by 1.5 percent next year to $86.9 million; which he admitted might be optimistic. This year the county expects to receive $85.7 million.

Duarte said personnel costs make up 53 percent of expenses. One of the largest increases is for group health insurance, which is expected to rise next year by 9 percent, or $1.2 million, to $14.3 million. But the county’s biggest cost hike is for its pension plan, pegged to rise by $1.8 million next year, or 41.7 percent, to nearly $6.3 million.

The general fund for 2011 doesn’t include an outlay for capital improvements, which will be in a separate budget. Normally, commissioners adopt the general fund budget in December for the fiscal year that begins Jan. 1. But this year, the board is scheduled to take action on the budget in November.

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