Less spending and a flat mill levy compared with last year.
That’s where the Douglas County Commission will start its 2010 budget discussions next week.
However, amid all the economic doom and gloom, county leaders say several cost-saving measures during the last few months have taken some tough decisions — like several employee layoffs — out of play.
“We’ve had some good things happen, and frankly, we saw this coming,” County Administrator Craig Weinaug said Wednesday morning.
One major way the county has saved money is by offering an early retirement incentive last year to 16 longtime employees. Those positions were either not filled or replaced with employees with less seniority and smaller salaries. The county had also frozen merit raises for the year, although Weinaug included a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment for employees in his recommended budget.
Given those measures, commissioners will still have plenty of decisions to make when they begin meeting with department and agency leaders on Monday.
The recession has hit property values in the county hard, which is the main source of revenue for local governments. The county’s valuation is 1.3 percent lower than last year, meaning that to keep property taxes from going up, cuts will be in the picture.
Historically, Douglas County’s valuation increased 3 to 4 percent per year. County leaders expect even a bigger drop in property values for next year’s budget before a possible turnaround.
“I’m encouraging them to keep the mill levy level because next year is going to be more difficult,” Weinaug said.
A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. In the county 1 mill would produce $1.1 million in revenue.
A major issue for Commissioners Nancy Thellman, Jim Flory and Mike Gaughan, as they work to finalize their budget, will be funding for social service agencies.
Currently, the 2010 budget proposal includes a 3 percent cut across the board for agencies from the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to Douglas County Senior Services to the county extension office.
Commissioners have budget hearings scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon Monday and Tuesday at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.