County faces drop in revenue

 

May 21, 2020



A decline in income for businesses across the county is likely to affect this year’s budget decisions, the Crook County Commissioners heard on Wednesday. In the meantime, departments will be asked to reduce their expenditure as much as possible over the next couple of months to address a projected shortage in revenue from tax sources.

At one point, said County Clerk Linda Fritz at a special meeting, the county budget was $1.7 million short, which was enough to cause “heart failure”. Fortunately, in putting all the pieces of the budget together and reviewing the figures, Fritz found revenue from two upcoming grants that she had not originally accounted for.

However, there remains a significant concern, said Fritz: most counties are projecting a drop of 20% in revenue from sales and use tax, severance tax, special fuel tax and gas tax over the next two months. That reduction would cause a projected loss of $232,000 for Crook County.

At this time, Fritz told the commissioners, the county’s budget stands at a point where $410,000 in cuts are still needed in order for it to balance. This would increase to $640,000 if that 20% drop is factored in.

Lower expenses could be a saving grace, she continued.

“In May and June of 18/19, we spent $2.2 million in expenditures for those two months. I’m estimating that we will only spend $1.5 million this year, so that helps,” she said.

Commissioner Kelly Dennis felt that the problem could be around for longer than the next couple of months. Estimating that 80% of county businesses have implemented lockdown measures, he guessed that half of those companies will default on this year’s taxes.


County Treasurer Mary Kuhl pointed out that it will also take those businesses a period of time to build back up to be able to pay them.

Fritz suggested that the commissioners should ask elected officials, departments and boards to curb their spending as much as possible for the next two months and also to avoid big expenditures where possible.

While it is the duty of the budget officer to make recommendations for all department budgets in order to balance the budget, Crook County has traditionally depended on the budget hearings with each department to present a case for their budgets to the commission. However, in light of the unusual circumstances, she presented ideas for areas where cuts could be made to address the potential $640,000 shortfall.

Road & Bridge, for example, could use money from the county road fund, which is a restricted fund that cannot be comingled with the general fund, to do road maintenance and construction. The sheriff could move one of his dispatchers’ wages into the E911 fund, which is also a restricted fund.


Public Health has another restricted fund, said Fritz, and more of their budget could be funded from this. Money from the county’s capital improvement fund could be transferred to the general fund to be used.

Fritz also suggested not adding the planned $300,000 to cash reserves. The suggested changes would total around $743,000 in cuts, said Fritz, “which would be more than what I think we need to cut.”

“It puts us in the ballpark, but everything’s a moving target,” she added.

Discussion was also held over what to do about wages for next year, with Commissioner Jeanne Whalen suggesting that only those salaries far lower than local averages could be increased. Fritz suggested that, because the county has been working to level out wages to ensure they are fair all round, the commissioners could instead allocate departments a certain amount of money per employee and allow them to divvy up as they think best.

“I think that’s a much more fair way of doing it,” Whalen agreed.

Terri Johnson, fair board president, suggested that a possibility to save money could be to present no entertainment at all at this year’s fair. Suggestions were also made by the commissioners that it could be a good idea to look into using the fairgrounds to bring in more revenue at other times of the year.

Whalen said she would take a look at the fair budget and determine what is needed to operate the piece of ground versus put on the event for two weeks out of the year. The county library was identified as another funding area in which there may be room for savings.

A letter will be sent to county department heads and boards to stress the importance of conserving money and Fritz stated that she will be making appointments to speak with every department. Commissioner Fred Devish commented that he hopes, by the time the commissioners continue their budget discussions, there will be information from the state as to whether there will be any federal CARES Act money coming to replenish the coffers.

 
 

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