07/11/07 — State's budget delays stymie boards

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State's budget delays stymie boards

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 11, 2007 1:46 PM

July 1 has come and gone -- and still no state budget.

And while the end is in sight, the Wayne County commissioners say the state delays are not unusual -- and have local budget consequences.

Meeting Tuesday, the board adopted a resolution urging the General Assembly to pass a statute requiring it to adopt its spending plan by June 1 and that if a continuing resolution must be adopted, that the final budget not require any additional county dollars.

The problem, Commissioner Andy Anderson explained, is that the state almost always approves its budget after the start of the counties' fiscal year, and depending on the legislature's decisions, that can have a significant impact.

"Nobody below the state can plan their budget out, and if you've got your budget passed, that can put you in a world of hurt. They don't seem to care what flows downhill," he said. "It's too late for this year, of course, but hopefully they'll start thinking about it for next. They could either shorten their session or start their session earlier."

This year in particular, he added, the counties are having to watch closely the legislature's decisions on Medicaid relief and any tax tradeoffs that might accompany it.

Currently though, Wayne County is moving forward with the budget it approved at the end of June.

"Our budget is adopted so (the legislature's delay) is not having any immediate effect. The only thing that would affect us is if they make changes we haven't budgeted for," county finance director Pam Holt said.

Other changes beyond Medicaid and the resulting tax adjustments, could also include increased costs at county landfills across the state.

"It also depends on when the legislation goes into effect," Holt added. "Right now all that's kind of unknown. We just have to watch it. We're watching the legislature every day."

Also watching the legislature is the county school system, which, even though the county Board of Education has gone through its 2007-08 budget process, is currently operating under an interim budget because more than 90 percent of its funding flows through the state.

Nan Barwick, the school system's finance director, explained that means that they are continuing their operations under last year's numbers.

"Basically we're in a holding pattern. DPI (state Department of Public Instruction) gives us planning numbers and we're not expecting any significant changes in funding, but we have to be careful," she said. "Most of our money comes through the state."

That interim budget is good until Oct. 1. State statutes require schools to have their final budgets in place by Oct. 15.

Usually, Mrs. Barwick said, the state gets their money to them by August. Although, she added, the state budget has been delayed as late as November.

"It provides challenges because we don't know exactly what we'll be working with, so you're heading into the school year blind. But we've learned to deal with it because it's an annual occurrence. It's rare they have (the budget) passed by July," she said.