06/03/09 — Hearings set for 2009-10 county budget

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Hearings set for 2009-10 county budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 3, 2009 1:46 PM

County commissioners listened without comment Tuesday as County Manager Lee Smith provided them with an overview of what he called a "standstill" budget proposal.

The $157.6 million budget is some 3.2 percent less than the current budget and maintains the tax rate at 76.4 cents per $100 of value. Property taxes account for $48.6 million, roughly 71 percent, of the general fund revenue base of $68.9 million.

Commissioners will delve more deeply into the budget waters during a June 10 workshop at 10 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex. A second session, if needed, would be held Friday, June 12, from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the same location.

A public hearing on the budget is slated for Tuesday, June 16, at 10:30 a.m. The budget must be adopted by July 1.

The budget proposal is available for inspection at Smith's office and online at www.waynegov.com.

Major expenditures in the budget include:

* Wayne County Development Alliance, $416,148

* Wayne Community College, $3,488,398

* Public assistance, $21,841,172

* Public health, $8,061,278

* Wayne County Public Schools, current expense, $18,887,994

* Wayne County Public Schools, capital outlay, $2,000,000

* Emergency Medical Services, $5,030,886

* Solid Waste Fund, $5,848,053

The budget includes slightly more than $9.2 million for a capital improvement plan including $2 million for expansion at the Dudley landfill and $2.5 million for the county schools.

One capital item not included was a request from the county's emergency services for two new ambulance stations, one being a "floating" one.

Smith said the county has set a goal of keeping response times to eight minutes and under. However, emergency medical services continue to grow as well as the volume of calls. That, he said, could eventually result in longer response times. When that happens, the county will have to make a decision on the new stations.

"I do feel the addition of at least one of these stations will be required in the next 18 months," he said.

Along with no tax increase, there are no salary increases for county employees.

There will be changes to the county's health insurance. The deductible will increase from $500 to $1,000 and the top two pharmacy co-pays will increase by $5 each.

Also, retirees would see their monthly premium increase from $435 to $550.

In a related employee benefit, Smith is recommending that employees hired after July 1 no longer be eligible for post-retirement benefits.

Accounting procedures, he said, require the county to show such future debts as a liability on its books.

"That is a $30 million liability on the books," Smith said.

The county, he added, cannot afford that any longer.

Smith told commissioners that any potential grant funding that is not in hand is not included in the budget. Should those funds be received, the county simply will adjust the budget, he said.

The budget process, he said, has been complicated by economic woes on the state and federal levels. The county has had to prepare its budget even though the state does not yet have its budget. The federal budget will be even later, in October, Smith noted.

He added that the current economic downtown could take as long as five years to weather.

The county has taken a significant hit in sales tax revenues, which are down by $3.6 million. The loss is attributed to a slowdown in retail sales and the Medicaid Relief/Sales Tax Swap. In exchange for assuming Medicaid-related costs, counties had to surrender proceeds from the Article 44 sales tax to the state.

Smith said the county had positioned itself to be in a "safe place" compared to other counties across the state. It has done so by being conservative in revenue estimates and controlling operational costs, he said.

The county has saved $14.3 million over the past four years by not filling vacant job positions and has reduced the number of positions by a net of 110.

The county will continue that practice, he said.

One exception will be in the Department of Social Services where two people will be hired to oversee the Crisis Intervention Administration. The Salvation Army had been administering the program.

However, Social Services Director Debbie Jones recommended the county bring it back in house in order to meet state standards, he said. The revenues generated by the center will offset the cost, Smith said.

Another money-saver, the four-day work week, will continue as well, he said. The schedule that most county offices have operated under since last August, along with routing of county vehicles, has saved about $315,000.

Currently there are no plans to expand the four-day workweek.

Smith said we will appoint members to a new county Efficiency in Operations Team to review performance standards for all county departments

He also is planning a Citizens' Advisory Team of between 16-24 people. The volunteers would be asked to review various department activities and projects and weigh in on the effectiveness of the programs.