|Budgets still over revenues by $2.3M|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Mike Anderson|
|Wednesday, 17 August 2011 12:50|
The county’s proposed 2011-12 budget was $3.4 million in the red three weeks ago. A week later $900,000 in cuts had reduced the projected deficit to $2.5 million.
Now, it’s down to $2.2 million, county commissioners were told during a third budget workshop on the afternoon of August 15. Unless additional revenues are found or more spending cuts are made, the county likely will have to dip into its reserve funds to balance the budget, officials said.
County Manager C.J. Thompson said despite recent additional cuts that had been made, including two county administrators whose positions were eliminated, projected expenditures were still $2,270,674 more than anticipated revenues.“All constitutional officers and county departments made cuts where we thought we could cut,” Mr. Thompson said, adding that a search for other sources of revenue is continuing, including additional fees for county services.
Commission Chairman Michael Crews said he was especially pleased to see the sheriff had trimmed an additional $120,300 from his budget, “so that was a help.”
Commissioners expressed disappointment earlier this month when the sheriff’s office budget, by far the largest of all constitutional offices, was only reduced $19,988 — from $3,617,932 to $3,597,944. The budget proposals were sent back to all constitutional officers seeking further cuts to help narrow the gap between income and expenses.
Part of Sheriff Joey Dobson’s budget revision includes a transfer of $35,000 to help the county fund the Council on Aging. Instead of the usual $109,000 annual donation to the council, the county commission will only have to come up with $74,000 in the coming year. Other cuts in his budget, the sheriff said, included reducing pay raises by $47,000 and eliminating a new van for inmate work crews.
Tax Collector Gene Harvey said his office helps the county by returning a portion of his department’s revenues to the county commission every year. According to a report he presented to the board, his budget has only increased 6 percent in the past five years and includes a $130,000 projected allocation to the county in 2012.
Property Appraiser Tim Sweat, who attended this week's meeting but did not address the commission, protested last week over the report that elected officers only initially reduced budgets 1 percent.
Mr. Sweat says his proposed $559,300 budget for the coming year reflects a 5.3 percent drop resulting for the elimination of a part time field position.
In another move to reduce expenditures, commissioners agreed to sharply reduce the amount of money the county donates to several non-profit agencies and voted to cut the entire $10,000 that had been earmarked for the Community Action Agency, a Jacksonville-based corporation with an office in Baker County that provides assistance to low-income families.
“They’re a big company,” Commissioner Jimmy Anderson said. “The county needs $10,000 more than they do. We need to prioritize.”
Michael Crews said he was satisfied that the board had done all it could do to cut expenses and if additional fees must be imposed on services such as solid waste disposal and emergency medical services [EMS] to help balance the budget, so be it.
“We did our part,” he said.
Commissioner Gordon Crews agreed, saying, “I think we’ve done our due diligence.”
Commissioners reluctantly conceded that they probably will have to dip into the county’s reserve, or “rainy day,” fund to make up for the revenue shortfall. However, they cautioned against assuming that the fund, which presently totals about $8.2 million, will always be there.
“You can only go to the well so many times,” Gordon Crews said, adding that the reserve fund might be available next year to help bolster revenues again but at some point the fund will dry up.
“I think we still have some cuts that could be made, $1,000 here, $1,000 there,” he said. “But not $2 million.”
Gordon Crews said that when he becomes chairman next year his message to department heads and constitutional officers will be simple: “Don’t bring me a budget above what we have (available in revenue) to spend because the savings account (reserve fund) is not there.”
Commissioner Mark Hartley said he expects department heads to “look at every penny they spend” and make sure that each expenditure is necessary.
Commissioner Adam Giddens, one of two new commissioners elected last year, said he didn’t like it but agreed that the board appeared to have no choice this year but to “dip into savings“ to balance the budget.
Mr. Anderson, also elected last year, said he had read the budget proposals numerous times and had to agree that the reserve fund will have to make up the revenue shortfall.
“But we don’t need to be in this position next year,” he said.
To help ensure that the board doesn’t face the same problem a year from now, Mr. Anderson said fees should be increased for EMS and solid waste disposal, both of which he said “are costing a lot more than they’re bringing in.”
A fourth budget workshop was tentatively scheduled for 4:00 pm on August 23 to finalize the spending package before it goes to the board for a public hearing on September 8. Final budget approval is set for September 15.
The 2011-12 budget, which goes into effect on October 1, is based on the same property tax, or millage, rate as last year: 7.1495 mills. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value.
The tax bill on a home with an assessed value of $125,000, after deducting the $50,000 homestead exemption, would be about $536 for county government services, excluding levies by the school district, water management district and any other taxing authorities.
|Last Updated on Friday, 19 August 2011 07:54|