06/03/05 — Commissioners eye budget, consider cuts

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Commissioners eye budget, consider cuts

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 3, 2005 2:39 PM

The Wayne County Commissioners are trying to avoid a hefty tax hike for property owners, so they are asking the county manager for additional budget information.

The board asked County Manager Lee Smith Wednesday to give them a risk assessment of what would happen if they cut certain items from the budget.

In following the direction of the board's priorities, Smith presented the commissioners a budget this week that would call for a 10-cent increase in the property tax rate.

Now the commissioners realize they must shift some priorities, but they say they need to know the effect that would have on the county.

"We need to identify some potential areas for cutting," Chairman J.D. Evans said.

During Wednesday's budget work session, Commissioner Atlas Price asked if the county had to put $750,000 in the general fund for incentives for economic development.

Price said that money might not be needed since the commissioners were asking the state to allow them the option of imposing a five dollar fee on license tags for economic development incentives.

"Maybe we could push this back," Price said.

Smith said even if the legislators passed that bill, it wouldn't affect the 2005-06 budget.

"And you will need to spend those dollars, possibly by August, and at least by December of this year," Smith said.

Commissioner Jack Best recommended cutting travel and membership due expenses for the county commissioners, saying that would cut around $30,000 to $40,000.

"We have to sacrifice," Best said. "This is a public service job, and we should start cutting with the county commissioners' budget."

Price said he thought the board needed to look at some big cuts to reduce fund balance usage.

Best said he knew Smith and the staff had worked hard on the budget, but said that it was difficult for the public to handle a big tax increase.

"People don't understand this," Best said. "Maybe if we were going up a little at a time."

Smith said he had recommended a minor increase two years ago.

"Had we done it, we wouldn't be where we are," Smith said.

Smith said he tried to follow the board's priorities, and asked for their guidance in cutting areas they weren't interested in funding.

Best suggested the county not participate in federal programs, and Smith said the county only participated in mandated programs.

"There are certain mandates we're required to do," Smith said. "We have no choice. I'm as frustrated as you are."

The county has cut 17 positions in the past 24 months, and Smith said the county plans to cut 20 more by July 1, which is 5 percent of the work force.

Best said the public needed to know about the county's efforts to save money by cutting its workforce.

"If they know things like that, they can live with it," Best said.

Smith said the county has stepped up its efforts to keep the public informed in the past two years by publishing an annual "State of Wayne" publication, having monthly informational updates on the local television station, articles in the newspaper, as well as radio interviews.

Evans suggested Smith come up with a fact sheet to let the public know what the commissioners have been doing.

"You have done what we asked," Evans said. "The public needs to know what is being done, and that this is a prime time to make progress."

Evans asked if Smith would give the commissioners some options of things to cut and use his "best analysis of what the effect would be."

"We need to know that because none of us wants to put the county in jeopardy," he said.