Commissioners face tough numbers for 2013 budget
By Randa Wagner -
The Morrow County Commissioners have their work cut out for them in the next week as they struggle to shave $1.58 million in requested funds from what this year’s budget will have to offer.
“The budget scenario is not good,” said Tom Whiston at Monday’s elected officials meeting. “There won’t be many people happy with us.”
The commissioners have been trimming the requests for weeks and are within $148,000 of the $6.88 million certified for this year. The final budget hearing is next Wednesday, and county offices will learn what they have to work with for the next 12 months.
“I’m just telling you up front,” Whiston said to the elected officials in attendance, “we don’t have a whole lot of money. The situation might improve as money comes in, but our expenses greatly outweigh our ability to pay them. So we have to make cuts, and the commissioners will make those as judiciously as possible so we can keep things operating.”
A number of factors contribute to the shortfall. The Title 20 (federal monies that go to JFS) have been cut and the commissioners are faced with an additional $320,000 in unpaid bills. The county now bears responsibility for child placements, which are outside the 4E basis, that is not in the budget. These services are mandated by the state.
“Over the last decade or so we’ve added a lot of debt,” said Commissioner Dick Miller. “That’s not a good scenario with a decreasing general fund budget. It’s not just the debt, it’s the upkeep on buildings. Each year we should be putting aside funds to do needed repairs and we’re not doing that.”
“If you look at this from a cash basis where we were two years ago versus now, the so-called ‘carry over’ has atrophied so that we are, in my opinion, in the red,” Whiston said. “Not only did we expend all of the certification last year, we then had the budget commission who gave us additional funds. We spent all of that and more, which means we have less to begin with (this year).
General fund money is what the Budget Commission (the prosecutor, the auditor and the treasurer) certify to the commissioners.
“The number they give us is what they project the sales tax and real estate tax to be along with minimal other income, and that’s what they ‘certify’ for us to spend,” explained Miller. “That’s ALL the money the board of commissioners controls and has to spend. A large percentage of it is already spent, for health insurance and debt retirement.”
“The notion that we have money to spend and if we spend it all, we can go back later in the year for more has to change,” Whiston added. “This is something we need to understand; regardless of what the budget commission may do later in the year, we have to deal with the budget as it is – for the whole year. We’ve had carry-overs that people have concluded, ‘well, we have money.’ We have taken all our carry over money to the point where we have no carry over money. That tells me that, until now, we’ve been spending money we didn’t have.”
Miller said when you hear the auditor say the county has a carry-over, that’s not a budgetary carry-over, it’s a cash carryover to run the county for a couple of months.
“Like Tom said, what we should be doing is putting back dollars for when elevators go out in a building or a roof needs repaired,” Miller said. “It’s a misnomer to say we’ve ever balanced the budget, unless you have enough to fund all your depreciations on all your buildings and all your contingent liabilities, you’re only balancing the cash you have in the general fund.”