The preliminary $291.4 million budget was presented to the county commissioners last week, marking the beginning of deliberations leading up to adoption.
“We are holding the line,” said Robin Campbell, county budget and fiscal manager. “It’s not easy. We are addressing many new and increased needs in the county.
“This county is figuring out how to do more with less.”
The county’s general fund is projected to end the year with a $15 million balance, three times the amount of reserves in 2008, according to County Manager Don Krupp. That $15 million provides a two- to three-month buffer going into 2013.
The county took drastic measures during the economic fallout in 2008, cutting 2009’s overall budget by 12.5 percent through layoffs, department consolidation and general-fund cuts.
Since, the county has slowly been rebuilding the reserve, Krupp said.
“We saw ourselves building the health of the general fund and essentially rebuilding the reserves that came with layoffs, eliminating positions and reorganizing the county,” he said.
Sales tax and revenue tied to construction and real estate continue to be slow to grow as state and federal grants have been reduced.
While layoffs are not likely for 2013, Campbell said things could change in 2014 and 2015 if the economy does not improve.
“I am very worried about the economy,” she said. “We are bouncing along the bottom; if for any reason it starts to take a dive again, we will have to reassess.”
The bulk of the 2013 budget is focused on moving into the Accountability and Restitution Center, the county’s new jail that finished construction in 2010.
The new building affects several county departments, especially court services.
Many office functions are becoming paperless. The court also is implementing a new video system. The county is hiring 11 full-time-equivalent employees to staff the facility.
Filling those needs required trims elsewhere in the budget.
Budgeted at minimum, Krupp said the county only has about $500,000 left in the general fund for “policy-level” requests, which are made by offices such as the county coroner and assessor.
County offices have made $7.4 million in policy-level requests for 2013 – much more than the $500,000 available.
“The reality is we are probably not going to be able to fund more than a handful of them,” Krupp said.
Various departments are seeking an additional $7.4 million in non-general-fund money for 2013 projects.
“In that case, it’s what is going to be necessary for folks,” Krupp said. “They need to show they have a revenue source to cover their project.”
As it stands, the county estimates it will bring in $267.5 million in 2013 and need to spend nearly $291.4 million, a shortfall of about $24 million.
Despite the difference, the county is not slated to overspend next year, Krupp said.
Two factors contribute to the $24 million shortfall, he said. The first involves planned capital project expenses that are drawing on funds built from previous years’ revenue. The second involves internal transfers between funds, which are counted as expenses twice.