The three county commissioners attending the March 30 meeting held a lengthy followup discussion to the proposed fiscal 2022 budget staff presented to them the previous week. The board is expected to finalize its proposed budget at next Tuesday’s meeting before it goes to public hearing.
With a current $1 million deficit in the proposed $326 million budget, coupled with $1.4 million in unresolved department requests, plus a projected year of budget woes forecast in fiscal 2024, the commissioners indicated they may need to take measures that immediately displease department heads and employees.
Two possible plugs for the operating budget hole were deemed “anomalies” by all three commissioners.
Tim Hayden, finance director, noted that the current fiscal year’s projected $97 million in income tax revenues is likely to be closer to $111 million. Also noted was an adjusted health insurance estimate that would save $1.5 million for the county.
Commissioners’ President Earl F. “Buddy” Hance (R) called the health insurance windfall “a one-time fluke.”
That, along with the income tax revenue increase were seen as products of the COVID-19 crisis, where taxpayers have been receiving stimulus money from the federal government.
“I think it’s all federal money,” said Hayden. “It will end at some point.”
“Neither of these items are sustainable,” said Hance.
“You can’t balance the budget with these two issues,” said Commissioner Mike Hart (R).
The board appeared receptive to Hayden’s suggestion to apply the additional income tax revenue to some of the county’s planned capital projects, using pay-go funding instead of bonding those projects.
“I have no problem with reducing that debt,” said Hance.
Hayden’s suggestion would be subject to a public hearing before it could be finalized.
As for approving the 18 new positions listed in the package of unresolved requests, Mark Willis, county administrator, warned, “if you do this, you have to come up with that money every year. This is a tough call.”
The county administrator suggested that decisions made to cut departments be done across the board, since each department comprises the “team” that is county government.
“I don’t know what else to do,” said Hance. “I am not raising taxes.”
Commissioner Steven R. Weems (R) made the motion to adopt the list of unresolved requests and direct each department to implement a 3% cut.
“It’s a fluid budget, it gives us time,” said Weems. The motion carried unanimously.
The commissioners’ proposed fiscal 2022 budget is scheduled to be ready for public review by May 4 with a public hearing two weeks later.