County takes on budget deficit

Chairman Steve Knebel said on Tuesday that the county’s budget for the new fiscal year will be a balanced one.
But, he said, before they start that new fiscal year in December, they need to address a problem with the current one.
The county board met in special session on Tuesday night so it could discuss with department heads that problem – deficits with the current budget.
With two months to go in this fiscal year – October and November – the county is looking at a budget deficit of about $60,000, Knebel said.
“For next year, we can draw a balanced budget to the tune of about $6,000 to the good,” he said.
But, first, “We’ve got those issues that need to be corrected this year,” Knebel said.
He gave the budget status for all of the county departments, including the four that have pushed the total budget figure into the red – sheriff, state’s attorney, coroner and courthouse maintenance.
Knebel explained that the courthouse maintenance fund deficit “is not really there” because of that department paid directly for projects to be taken care of with capital improvement funds.
The sheriff’s deficit is the largest, at about $50,000, mainly attributable to overtime.
The state’s attorney’s office is over by about $6,000, and it was discovered that is due to State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison not initially receiving health insurance coverage.
The coroner’s office is over by about $4,000, Knebel said, with that deficit due to spending for professional services, such as autopsies.
“If we don’t correct this, next year’s going to be bad,” Knebel said. “And, if next year’s bad, you know what’s going to happen – we’re going to lay off people.”
Board member John Blythe said there’s “only (one) way” to address the problem, admitting that it’s not a popular one – “lay people off or cut hours or have a tax increase.
“Face it – we’re a business,” Blythe said. “I’m the bad guy, but honestly …
“This (courthouse and jail) is just like a home,” he said, talking about the need for ongoing maintenance. “We’ve had the roof and the boiler – what’s going to be next?”
Board member “Whitey” Daniels asked about cutting courthouse hours, and Marc Hortenstine, another member, asked about, for example, cutting one hour each week from each employee.
Those cannot be done, Knebel said, because the courthouse has to be open every day, for court and court-affiliated departments, and because the unions representing county employees have to agree to cuts in employee hours or furlough days.
Board member Dean Bernhardt said, “We tried that one time (with the unions), and it didn’t fly.”
Knebel said that they would have to give unions at least 30 days notice. That’s a problem, given the fact that there are two months left in the fiscal year, he said.
He said that one of the county’s problems is that it has money in the capital improvement fund, money that is set aside to be used for capital improvement projects, not salaries.
“It’s hard to make that decision and say, ‘We’re going to lay off people,’ when you’ve got those resources,” Knebel said.
Supervisor of Assessments Cindi Lotz, whose department is under budget, offered to turn over her excess money to help with the deficit.
That, Knebel said, has always been done, lowering the deficit from $60,000 to a little more than $32,000.
Of the three who are over budget, two – sheriff’s office and state’s attorney’s office – were represented at Tuesday’s meeting.
Knebel said he would like to “put the burden on you.” He asked Morrison and incoming sheriff Chris Smith if they could take care of the deficits if the county temporarily dealt with it via a short-term loan from the capital improvement.
“I have no doubt,” each of them responded.
Looking to the next fiscal year, Knebel told department heads, “We’re a family – we’ve got to take care of this.
“It’s imperative to stay within your budget – it’s just got to happen,” he said.

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