Douglas OKs budget; takes from reserve |

Douglas OKs budget; takes from reserve

Sheila Gardner

With an assurance that they could recalculate, Douglas County commissioners approved a tentative budget of $123.7 million on Tuesday by dipping in the county reserve fund.

“We’re essentially approving a budget and violating our board policies,” said Commissioner Dave Brady at the end of a four-hour budget workshop.

A second workshop is set for Wednesday night to hear from East Fork Fire & Paramedic districts, enterprise funds, redevelopment agency and road funds.

County Manager T. Michael Brown told commissioners finances were at the “perfect storm” level due to declining revenues, ongoing employee association negotiations and the legislative unknown.

He told commissioners they would have more opportunities to balance the budget.

“You will be receiving information about negotiations and what help the state is giving that will help you make a different decision,” Brown said.

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The board must submit a tentative balanced budget to the state by April 15. On May 18, the state requires each county hold a public hearing and the adopted budget must be sent to the state on June 1.

Brown said the board has the ability to revise and resubmit the budget after Aug. 15.

“That may happen depending on what the Legislature does. I’m very nervous,” he said.

The current budget deficit is $1.58 million.

“Most of the revenues we rely on to fund our services are on the decline,” he said.

The county’s assessed value declined for the first time in memory, dropping 3.4 percent to $3.473 billion.

“There’s no new construction and the value of homes is going down,” he said.

He offered charts and graphs showing sales taxes, taxable sales, building-related revenue, gaming revenue and interest on investments all on the decline.

“I’m sorry for showing so much negative stuff here,” he said.

Suggested methods to balance the budget include increase revenues, implement new revenue, reduce expenditures, use reserves or a combination of those suggestions.

Personnel options include reducing hourly rates and county contribution toward dependent health care, layoffs, reducing employee hours and furloughs, reduce county service levels and eliminate certain county services.

Brown said no new personnel or increases in hours were to be included in budgets unless requested by commissioners.

He said employees at the management level agreed to no merit or salary increases.

“I think there is a big understanding of what’s going on,” Brown said. “Many of the employees I talked to have said they are just happy to have jobs.”

He said the equivalent of 30-40 full-time positions were vacant, or about 10 percent of county staff.

“There are all kinds of things we’re doing,” he said. “We’re truly trying to be frugal.”