Archive for Tuesday, March 5, 2002

County steels for tough year

March 5, 2002


Douglas County officials aren't wasting any time bracing for a tight budget year.

During their meeting Monday morning, commissioners learned they can expect as much as $1.5 million less from state government this year  a revenue loss that could lead to service cuts, staff reductions or both.

The expectations come courtesy of an estimated $460 million hole in the state's own budget projections, which legislators are scrambling to fill.

And it's leading county officials to prepare for the worst.

"I think it's a terrible thing to do, and I think it's a cheap deception," Commissioner Charles Jones said of looming state cuts. "They'll claim that they aren't raising taxes, and then they'll shift that burden to the local level."

County Administrator Craig Weinaug last week met with his department officials, telling them to prepare "worst-case scenarios" for drafting the county's 2002 budget. Such work typically wouldn't begin until May, but the dire budget projections are shifting work into high gear early.

Weinaug warned commissioners that the county likely would have to cut staff  not through layoffs, but probably through a hiring freeze. The county has about 300 employees, and a $38 million budget.

"To balance the budget, we'd have to have fewer employees than we have now," Weinaug said.

The projected budget loss of between $1.3 million and $1.5 million would occur if the state decided to keep the county's share of city-county revenue sharing funds and half of its local ad valorem tax reduction funds. Both losses are likely, Weinaug said.

Commission Chairman Jere McElhaney joined Jones in expressing his frustration over the expected budget cuts. McElhaney asked Weinaug to keep a close eye on proceedings in Topeka, looking out for more bad financial news.

Jones said county officials likely will have to consider the possibility of raising property taxes, though it's something no commission would want to do.

"There's not a lot of fat in government," Jones said. "We're well into the bone right now."

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