The White Pine County Board of Commissioners held a public budget workshop on April 6 to discuss ways to bring the budget into balance, and as the first order of business finance director Elizabeth Frances presented her preliminary budget worksheet.
According to the worksheet, including modifications Frances made at the meeting, the estimated balance for the county’s 2017 fiscal year is $3.9 million, a decrease from this year’s fund balance of $1.1 million. The commission’s strategy is to use $425,000 of the ending fund to balance the budget, requiring cuts of $698,500. Frances later amended that due to a county employee delaying their retirement, resulting in a necessary reduction of $657,000. After previously discussed reductions are taken into account, the resulting balance needed to be cut totaled $301,000.
Commissioner Richard Howe presented his plan to approach the $698,000 mark required to keep the ending fund utilization to $425,000. His projected budget cuts totaled $681,500 in savings, with each county department suffering a deep 10 percent cut.
“I feel singled out,” golf course general manager Randy Long said at the public comment podium. “I take it personal since I’m the only one on there.”
“I don’t want to make so severe cuts,” Board Chair Gary Perea said. “Safety and welfare would be put in jeopardy. I don’t want things to get in such bad shape that people don’t want to move into the community.”
“There’s a morale problem,” Frances said. “People are questioning whether to take a job with the county or continuing to work for the county.”
“Ten percent is pretty tough to cut,” Sheriff Dan Watts said. “Am I going to agree with everything? No. We have one of the best sheriff’s offices in the state and we’re doing more with less. If we’re going to be cutting services, I have to cut nonessentials. My deputies are already using their vacation time and spending their own money to go to training. We need to be public safety oriented. I have $400 to spend on search and rescue. I don’t know where the cuts can be made.”
“The people who need to be here are the state legislators,” Perea said.
“I could not reach a 10 percent cut without reducing employee hours,” county maintenance superintendent Bill Calderwood said.
“I looked at ways to not just go year to year,” Howe said. “We have to start somewhere. I went out on my own to the department heads. I’m not after anybody in particular. I addressed every single department with 10 percent. It’s going to hurt people. It hurts me to do it. Not everybody is going to like it, but we’re on a collision course with the state department of taxation. My cuts are real, they’re honest, and no single department was singled out. I’m standing by them a hundred percent. I did what I’m supposed to do. It’s my job as a county commissioner.
“If everybody sucks it up, and doesn’t say I can’t, but says I can or I’ll try, it will work in three or four years. We’re going down a bad course and if we don’t correct it, we’re up a creek. The next step will be going to payroll and it’s going to be bad all around. We have to do it and we have to do it now. It’s right here in black and white. They’ll say county commissioners don’t do anything, but if we don’t do it, we’ll look back in three or four years and say, why didn’t we do anything?”
“I think we have a moving target,” Commissioner Mike Coster said. “Some of these changes I’m going to have trouble with.”
“I want it and I want it now,” Howe said.
“Let’s not make this year the cliff,” Coster said. “As in fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be extraordinarily difficult.”
“I’m sorry, Richard,” Perea said. “But I don’t agree with any of your cuts. I can’t get behind these cuts at all.”
“It would not be pleasant losing 11 to 12 positions,” Coster said. “We need reorganization and we need to reduce the number of supervisors and department heads, not just the employees. We need to consolidate departments and we need shared support staff and broader responsibilities.”
“I’m watching five good people and the financial director under an extraordinary amount of pressure,” former county commissioner John Lampros said. “Just make it whole.”
“We’ve got the potential to put a package together now,” District Judge Steve Dobrescu said. “Something so no one is going to lose their job because we get a new jail. I’ve been a judge here for 15 years, and now we’re having court almost every day, so let’s give it a shot.”
“The longer we wait the more we’ll spend,” Watts said.
The commission then voted to direct Frances to continue working on the preliminary budget according to the board’s discussion, with Coster voting nay.
The board holds its next regular meeting at the county aquatic center on April 13 at 9 a.m., where commissioners will continue to discuss and possibly approve the fiscal year 2017 tentative budget.