06/04/10 — County still looking at spending for 2010-11

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County still looking at spending for 2010-11

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 4, 2010 1:46 PM

Concerns about a $156 million county budget proposal beset by disappearing state funds and questions about the county's preliminary capital improvement plan and pay-as-you-go projects consumed the major portion of a Thursday morning county budget workshop.

The session was a continuation of county commissioners' Tuesday meeting.

For most of Thursday, commissioners asked informational questions about how different parts of the budget worked or interacted.

During the board's Tuesday session, County Manager Lee Smith said the budget proposal contained few changes from the current spending plan, maintaining the tax rate at 76.4 cents per $100 of value and continuing into a fourth year of a freeze on new capital projects and jobs, with exceptions made only for those in shift work or in areas of potential lost production or mandate.

There are no cost of living increases for employees.

A public hearing on the budget will be held June 15 during the board meeting in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

Commissioner Steve Keen initiated the discussion of the capital improvement plan.

Most grant opportunities, such as the federal Community Block Grant program, require a capital improvement plan, Smith explained. Bond rating agencies require the plans, and organizations such as the Local Government Commission prefer them, he said.

"You have not committed to the projects," he said. "You have only committed to a plan. The policy has been that you approve each project separately -- the large items outside the pay-as-you-go. You approve those individually as a board."

Smith said he has spoken to officials at Moody's and Standard and Poor's who told him that was an appropriate approach since the plan will change.

Keen said he had tried to go back and see what had been completed this past year.

But, Smith explained, because of the overall freeze on new projects, most of those were the pay-as-you-go projects, which are part of both the capital improvement plan and the regular operations budget and do not require individual board action.

"We list them, but they are part of the operation budget because they are usually small capital projects and are not set aside in project ordinances," Smith said. "They are departmental and are line items in departments (budgets)."

And each one, he explained, is required to be listed out individually in the budget.

This year, the budget proposal includes $2.9 million for such pay-as-you-go projects.

Commissioner Andy Anderson said he hoped the county would put as many resources into its capital needs as it could spare.

"I know it is a tough time, but I would like to see us put as much into capital each year as we can," Anderson said. "We get further and further behind. I would like to see us do as much as we can for the larger capital items."

Commissioners agreed to have Smith plan a work session for September during which the capital projects could be more thoroughly discussed.

In other budget discussions, Smith said early estimates show the property revaluation resulting in about a 10 percent increase in values, though it could be as much as a 17 percent increase.

However, Smith said he will base his budget figures on 10 percent and hope for the other 6 to 7 percent that could then be counted toward capital.

Keen then turned his attention toward state revenues and asked Smith what role they play in the budget.

Smith explained that of the $111 million in major budget revenues, $18.6 million comes from state and federal sources -- an amount that does not include any potentially questionable funding.

"If we thought the revenue was not coming, we left it out," he said. "Until you know you have it, you don't spend it."

Should the money come in late, it would just be a matter of amending the budget, he added.

Other commissioners also voiced concerns about how the county would cope with cuts to social programs, while Best sounded a familiar refrain asking Smith if he knew how much was being spent on people who shouldn't qualify for them.

"Social services take care of the old, feeble, children," Best said. "Now we are to the point we are taking care of people who should be taking care of themselves. How many unwed mothers do we take care of?"

Smith said he did not know.