Thursday, April 19- Commissioners Need To Cut $23M To Balance Budget
SNOW HILL - Worcester County faces one of the largest gaps between budget requests and anticipated revenue in its history this year.
The total requests, $197.6 million, far exceed the total projected revenue for fiscal year 2008.
'Estimated revenues, based on the current tax rate, are $174 million,' said Worcester County Chief Administrator Gerry Mason.
The commissioners will need to cut $23.5 million from the requested budget presented to them Tuesday to get the fiscal year 2008 budget to balance
The commissioners have the power to cut or raise the current property tax rate, 70 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, or keep it at that level. They will make that decision during the budget process.
Mason emphasized that the budget presented is a summary of staff requests only.
'It's not the commissioners' budget, it's the requested budget,' Mason said. 'This is a requested budget, so everybody's asked for everything.'
Commissioners Judy Boggs and Virgil Shockley joked about using a chainsaw to bring the budget down to manageable size, as, Shockley said, former Commissioner Sonny Bloxom often advocated.
'We've cut slightly bigger budgets down,' said Mason.
Cutting budget requests appears to be the favored method of closing the gap rather than raising taxes.
'I'm not going to raise taxes, not going to vote to raise taxes,' said Commissioner Bob Cowger.
Nearly everything was funded last year, said Boggs, due to property reassessments in the north end, but not this year. With stable revenue growth this year, not everything requested will be funded and much of it will be slashed.
'You have your work cut out for you. You have at least $23.5 million you either have to cut or find new revenue,' said Mason.
The commissioners have the unenviable task of balancing the budget while keeping needed programs operating.
'That's some huge cuts,' Cowger said. He went on to say, 'It makes us look like the bad guys.'
The commissioner said he would like to require departments to take another look at their budgets and ask them to scale down their requests. The departments have to take some responsibility, he said.
'I don't think I'm qualified to micromanage their budgets,' Cowger said.
However, having the departments rework their budgets at this stage of the game could jeopardize the narrow time frame for the process.
'If we send it back to everyone, we're not going to meet our schedule,' Boggs said.
The commissioners must approve a balanced budget by June 5.
Commission President James Purnell said the individual departments would have to live with the decisions made by the elected officials, a situation they have come to expect. In fact, many departments pad their requests with the understanding some of them will be cut.
'Most of the time when we make our decisions, they accept that,' he said.
Purnell said it would be a hardship to ask the departments to redo their requests at this stage of the game.
'I don't think it's fair to them,' he said.
Each department has already created a priority list, except the Board of Education, Mason said.
The Sheriff's department has said that the new employees requested are a higher priority than new vehicles, for example.
'We have asked for that priority list from the towns and also the Board of Education,' Boggs said.
The commissioners will be better able to make decisions on cuts after the work sessions held with each department, said Shockley, although he did not rule out Cowger's suggestion entirely.
The county will see a $14 million increase in revenue in fiscal year 2008, despite decreases in state and federal grants, interest and licenses and permits. The decreases are offset by an increase of $20 million in property tax.
A budget summary released by the county shows that 41 percent of the requested budget would go toward current salaries. Proposed raises for existing employees would be nearly $6 million. Employee insurance and benefits are expected to go up 114 percent.
Fifty-five new employees are among the requests, with 32.5 for county departments, and 22.5 for the schools, representing an increase of $1.4 million in salary costs over last year.The county will hold budget work sessions with the departments this month. The annual public budget hearing will be held May 1 at Snow Hill High School.