County commissioners tackle budget deficit
Tribune News Service
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. – Officials hunkered down this week with Douglas County’s $123 million budget, conducting a series of hearings to trim $2.2 million to balance the budget as required by state law.
“These are difficult days for us,” Commission Chairman Mike Olson said Monday at the first day of hearings.
He thanked County Manager T. Michael Brown, department heads and elected officials and staff for “being fiscally responsible and working very hard to keep budgets balanced.”
“We continue to see double digit declines,” Olson said. “We’re working together to make the budget work and keep up the levels of service for the county. It’s going to be a tough couple of days.”
Brown put together a PowerPoint presentation that took commissioners and the audience through a budget overview.
As he sifted through the slide presentation, Brown acknowledged, it was “time we have to show some negative news.”
For example, assessed valuations have decreased 15 percent in the last two years; connection fees dropped from $2.5 million in 2003-05 to $25,000 in the last fiscal year.
Douglas County taxable sales dropped 28 percent in the last four years, from a high of $818 million in 2005-06 to $584 million in 2008-09.
Monday night’s audience for Brown’s overview consisted of elected officials, department heads and Gardnerville resident Jack Van Dien.
Tonight’s discussion was to deal with more financial specifics.
“It’s imperative we look at the fundamental framework of the budget we’ve built up over the years,” said Commissioner Dave Brady.
“The situation we face is not time certain. The economic downturn will continue over the next two or three years,” he said.
“We simply don’t have the money to employ the number of employees we have,” Brady said. “Priorities will have to be addressed.”
This year, commissioners met one-on-one with department heads and elected officials for a closer look at their budgeting processes.
“The process was invaluable,” said Commissioner Greg Lynn. “It gave us a glimpse we don’t ordinarily get. We’re not operations managers.”
Brown has told the commissioners that the budget process is at the point where the next decisions must come from the board.
“We’re looking for board direction,” he said Monday.
In the past, the cuts were made on what percentage of the budget was allocated to an agency.”For example, if the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office got 40 percent of the budget, they got 40 percent of the deficit,” Brown said in an interview last week.
“It’s not appropriate for me as county manager to go to elected officials and say, ‘Here’s where you should make the cuts,” he said.
Those are policy decisions and must come from the board.
He’s recommending priority-based budgeting rather than across-the-board cuts.
Brown told commissioners reserves should be used under “extraordinary circumstances” when actual revenues are much less than estimates or actual expenditures are much higher than estimated.
Or, he said, if there is what he called “solid evidence” that future revenues will grow faster than expenditures.
“Neither of these apply to the county at this time,” he said.
Tonight, commissioners are to discuss East Fork Fire & Paramedic Districts, road funds, and the Douglas County Redevelopment Agency.
Commissioners are to send the tentative budget to the state on Thursday for review. A state-required public hearing and budget adoption is May 17 with the adopted budget to the state by June 1.
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