Friday, July 12, 2013

County faces tough budget decisions

Commissioners postpone discussion on salary raises

Express Staff Writer

    Following budget requests presented by departments and outside organizations in May and June, Blaine County commissioners have begun to form a tentative budget for fiscal year 2014.
    In deciding on a $27 million to $30 million budget, the commissioners are challenged this year by increased employee health-care costs and an as-yet lack of 2014 funding for the federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes program, which this year contributed $1.77 million to Blaine County’s revenue. The program lost a mandatory funding provision in 2012 and now depends on Congress to decide on an annual basis.
    “We really have a great deal of uncertainty right now,” Commissioner Larry Schoen said during a budget meeting Wednesday at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey.
    The commissioners unanimously agreed to take the maximum 3 percent increase in revenue allowed by state law.
    At the meeting, they considered a list of 94 requests for funding beyond 2013 levels.
    Some of the larger additional items that the commissioners voted to keep in the budget were:

  • $13,000 to fix the floor at the Road and Bridge Department shop in Carey so that water does not drain into the office there.
  • $15,000 to increase hours for the county engineer to work on road and bridge projects.
  • $24,000 for two new postage machines, without which, Commissioner Angenie McCleary said in an interview, the county will not be able to send out mail.
  • $100,000 for road oil, crushed rock and gravel, due to increased prices for those items and more work required on county roads.
  • $40,000 to match a federal grant to replace the Adams Gulch Road bridge.
  • $44,549 for an additional jailer and $50,000 for a court security officer. McCleary said those items were left in for now, but are unlikely to make the final cut.
  • Larger items to which the commissioners said no include:
  • $74,000 for an investigator at the Prosecutor’s Office. Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said in an interview that the position, vacant since 1999, is desired because the county has been involved in more complex, document-intensive cases, including embezzlements.
  • $29,500 for Mountain Rides Transportation Authority to make up for a loss of federal funding. McCleary said that item will be reconsidered but is unlikely to be reinstated.
  • $25,000 to increase GIS survey points.

    Decisions on two of those requests—$77,000 for employee merit pay and $88,000 for salary adjustments to match market (private-sector) rates—were postponed.
    The commissioners also postponed a decision on whether to increase their own $61,522 salaries, which Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said are only at 57 percent of market rate. All three commissioners expressed support for an increase, though none specified how much.
    The county is facing a $152,000 increase in its employee health-care insurance coverage if it wishes to maintain existing benefits. During a meeting with the commissioners Tuesday, Human Resources Generalist Susan Potucek presented 13 plan options, all of which had lower prices but all of which would reduce benefits. A decision on the subject was postponed until County Administrator Derek Voss receives feedback from county employees on whether they want higher pay or better health insurance.
    A meeting to set a tentative 2014 budget is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 24. By state law, a final budget must be set by Sept. 9. The final budget can be reduced from the tentative budget, but not increased.

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