Crunching numbers in meetings
Douglas County commissioners are set to meet Monday to review budget issues involving several programs, projects and departments:
• 8 a.m.: Douglas County Community Corrections and district courts.
• 8:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.: administrative budget issues, including proposed pay increases for county employees, the Capital Improvement Program, and the county’s building fund.
• 10:30 a.m.: review issues related to economic development, heritage-related efforts and preservation of open space.
Public input will be heard during a special commission meeting, at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday.
Commissioners intend to start making changes to the county’s recommended budget during a hearing at 8 a.m. July 26.
All meetings are set for the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.
Scouring Douglas County’s proposed $69 million budget for next year already has trimmed more than $250,000 in expenses from the thick, three-ring binders that elected officials have been lugging around for the past week.
The identified excess expenditures — duplicate entries sniffed out by Commissioner Mike Gaughan — trimmed a projected increase in the county’s property tax rate from 16.6 percent to 15.9 percent, without commissioners having to cut a single project, program or proposal.
Now the real work begins.
“Anything we can find to save a few dollars, that’s good,” Commissioner Jim Flory said. “But we’re still looking.”
This week, commissioners will continue budget hearings before opening up the process to public comment Tuesday night.
That meeting — set for 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass. — will be expected to focus on a wide array of planned revenues and expenditures for 2011.
Perhaps the most notable is a proposed property tax increase of 5.23 mills, which would cost the owner of a $150,000 home another $90.22 next year. Before Gaughan uncovered the duplicate budget entries, which had added to the county’s projected expenses for next year, the increased cost would have equaled $93.84.
The increased property taxes would help the county make up for declining revenues, such as a projected $1 million drop in mortgage taxes, plus assist some social services agencies and other projects recover somewhat from state and federal budget cuts. Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, for example, would be able to hire a psychiatrist to serve low-income clients.
The county also would set aside $500,000 for economic-development efforts, plus another $500,000 for heritage-related efforts and open-space preservation. County employees also would get a 1-percent cost-of-living increase, plus be eligible for merit raises and longevity bonuses.
Flory, who already has suggested potential cuts to the recommended budget, is the one who suggested having an evening meeting set aside exclusively for public comments regarding the budget.
While a public hearing will be conducted in August — a hearing required by law, to clear the way for the budget’s official adoption — Tuesday night’s early edition should end up being more useful for commissioners, Flory said.
“We’d like to hear the public comments before we make all the decisions,” he said.
While the proposed tax increase already has generated plenty of interest — Flory said he had received several calls about it, and County Administrator Craig Weinaug has acknowledged receiving numerous communications — Tuesday’s meeting also will allow backers of proposals for new and expanded programs to express their support.
“My hope would be that this is seen as an opportunity for people to come, both with their concerns and also with their encouragement with certain parts of the budget,” said Nancy Thellman, commission chairwoman.