Friday, August 7, 2009

Shrinking revenue means smaller budget

Officials cut $1.2 million from previous year’s Blaine County budget

Express Staff Writer

In the face of falling sources of revenue, Blaine County officials brought a chainsaw to their budgeting work for the coming fiscal year.

"We have no guarantees what our revenue will be like going forward," Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen warned.

On Tuesday, county commissioners set the county's tentative budget for the 2010 fiscal year—which officially begins on Oct. 1—at $22,687,976. At first glance, that looks remarkably similar to the budget number they set just a year ago for the current fiscal year.

That budget was just $2,000 more than the one commissioners set Tuesday, said Blaine County Clerk Jolynn Drage. But that's misleading, Drage added, because the 2010 budget includes a first-time expense: the takeover of the Ketchum Police Department by the Blaine County Sheriff's Office.

County Commissioner Tom Bowman described that expense as "pass through," meaning the funds to pay for the Sheriff's Office's handling of all law enforcement duties in Ketchum are being paid for under contract by the city.

Across the board, the commissioners made cuts wherever they could, said Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary. She said the county made large cuts in at least 10 areas.

Cuts include a freeze on all salary increases for county employees, a hold on all capital expenses—including no new vehicle purchases for the Sheriff's Office—and a reduction in salary for the Blaine County administrator. Counting salary and benefits, the new administrator, Derek Voss, makes about $30,000 a year less than the previous administrator, Mike McNees.

The county also decided to not fill the position of head of the Blaine County Water Quality Department. With the recent departure of that individual, the county commissioners decided to take the unusual step of putting the county's entire water quality program on hold.

Schoen went so far as to raise the question of whether eliminating a second position in the Water Quality Department would be prudent, an idea he said was difficult to discuss. That position is filled by Kathleen Turner.

"This person happens to be a personal friend of mine," he said of Turner.

In the end, the commission took no action on that item. Turner will continue to maintain the county's lengthy database of septic systems.

The figures set by the commissioners on Tuesday are a requirement under Idaho law and are considered a tentative, "not-to-exceed" county budget. While the commissioners cannot increase those tentative budget figures now that they've been set, they can either decrease the budget amount later in September when they finalize the budget or shift them "laterally" to cover other budget needs that arise.

Jason Kauffman:

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