Douglas County commissioners for the first time in recent memory may have to consider a hiring freeze if the Legislature is as tightfisted as expected.
Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said he has alerted the three commissioners that a hiring freeze may be needed if the state's budget crunch ends up significantly reducing county revenues.
"It is almost premature to talk about because we don't have a dilemma currently, but we have to be prepared to look at what might happen," Weinaug said. "I have made the statement to commissioners that we really don't have any way to cut without looking at personnel."
A hiring freeze wouldn't mean layoffs for the county's 371 current employees. Rather, when positions opened because of retirement, death or job changes, they would be left unfilled. The county's current attrition rate is about 10 percent per year.
Weinaug said the freeze might be needed because the county already has cut its budget and raised its mill levy last year in response to declining state revenues.
The county receives "demand transfers" from the state to help fund portions of local government and also gets special state money for services such as roads and law enforcement.
Weinaug also fears the state may cut funding to outside social service agencies such as Cottonwood Inc., Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, and Health Care Access resulting in pressure for county government to make up for the lost funding.
Raising the local property tax mill levy to make up for lost state revenue likely won't be much of an option this year because commissioners increased it by 15 percent last year.
"It is very, very difficult to have two mill levy increases in a row," Weinaug said. "Probably it is politically impossible this year."
Commissioners Charles Jones and Jere McElhaney said a mill levy increase isn't likely.
"I'd say the chances of that will be nil," McElhaney said.
Weinaug said he believes it will be near the end of the legislative session, in late March or early April, before commissioners will know if a hiring freeze is needed.