Friday, December 31, 2010

In county, it was all about the money

Issues included deficit spending, budget cuts and economy


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

When it came to controversial county issues this year, many of them centered on one thing: money.

Increase denied

County commissioners were faced with the tasks of reducing deficit spending and adopting a new budgeting process this year.

The new process, outcome-based budgeting, bases funding on how well the goals of the departments or organizations align with the county's priorities.

The first budget proposal included numbers for a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for all county employees. The commissioners scrapped the increase, and the final budget included only minor adjustments for some county staff.

Funding for a new human resources staffer, who would take over some of the responsibilities currently held by County Administrator Derek Voss, was also thoroughly debated.

"Whenever I ask [Voss] to do something more, I feel like either he doesn't do something else or he doesn't sleep," said Commissioner Larry Schoen. "Usually, it's the latter."

The position is set to be filled in March 2011.

Despite cuts in other areas, the county was still faced with a $98,000 deficit in its final $25.8 million budget.

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Blaine Manor levy

That deficit could have exceeded $500,000 had it not been for voter approval in August of the Blaine Manor levy, a $1.9 million addition to the county property tax that will keep the skilled-nursing facility solvent for three years.

The manor operates under an average deficit of $600,000 per year, which the county had been funding through reserves. However, the commissioners informed taxpayers that that level of deficit spending could not be sustained.

The approved levy is projected to keep the facility solvent until Croy Canyon Ranch, a private senior living facility, can be opened in 2014 west of Hailey.

Economic fragmentation

January 2010 saw the creation of another economic development organization in the valley: the Sun Valley Economic Development Corp., created by the Sustain Blaine advisory board to implement an economic development strategy created last year.

However, an independently conducted study released in September stated that the county had too many economic development organizations for any of them to make progress.

An executive director for the corporation, due to start in January was suggested as a coordinator for all the county's economic development efforts, but County Commissioner Tom Bowman said the myriad of other organizations and municipalities would have to agree.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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