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County budget better than expected

 

July 8, 2021



Despite ongoing financial concerns at the state level, the fiscal year of 2021 doesn’t look like it’s going to be too painful for Crook County. Thanks to some conservative budgeting from the individual departments, says County Clerk Linda Fritz, it’s looking like the budget will balance this year without any significant cuts.

“I asked all the departments to start off with a budget that mirrored last year’s. We also agreed on no raises at the moment, because we wanted to see what the budget was going to look like,” Fritz says.

Though the final figures are still up in the air, things are looking good, she says. The budget is set to balance and the county may even be able to add to its emergency reserve fund.

“It’s actually looking pretty positive, which was a surprise, but it was because everybody came in not asking for increases and people were willing to make some cuts in different areas when they visited with the board. Everybody has been really good with that.”

The cuts range in size according to department, but that’s due to the size of each office rather than willingness. A smaller office-based department may only be able to find $500 or $1000 in cuts from their supplies, while a large department may be able to forego replacing a large piece of equipment such as a motor grader.

Capital Expenditures

The largest capital expenditure that has been included in this year’s budget is $250,000 for road name signs.

“When Growth & Development had to put up new road signs when the E-911 system was coming in, the signs are fading so you can’t read them, the wording is too small because it was less expensive to do it at the time. Because of E-911 and new people responding to emergencies, this would be a job to replace them all with bigger words, solid poles and so on.”

The second capital expenditure on this year’s plan is to re-purpose the space in the basement that no longer houses the county museum. Fritz is in need of more vault storage for county records, so has requested a portion of the space.

“We also talked about having meeting spaces for when attorneys come to see their clients for court. We don’t have many places for people to go,” Fritz says.

Homeland Security may also be moved down to the basement to allow more space for that office.

“We’re getting full up here,” says Fritz, and utilizing that space will allow the courthouse to spread out a little more.

Federal Funds

At some point this year, the county will have to look more closely at the $736,000 it has now received through the American Rescue Plan Act. However, says Fritz, the county commissioners have chosen to place the money in emergency reserves for the time being, until final guidance has been issued as to how it can actually be spent.

“We’re just sitting on it now, rather than allocate it into certain lines,” she says. A budget amendment at a later date can be used to add the funding into the appropriate parts of the budget.

At this time, there are a number of categories within which the money can be expended. The first, says Fritz, is to support public health response, but there have been numerous grants available for this purpose and at this time extra money does not appear to be needed in this county.

The second is water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. Capital improvements are included, says Fritz; for example, jail upgrades or replacement storm water improvements.

This category has allowed the county to identify its first potential expenditure of the funds: fixing a water issue in the county jail at an approximate cost of $20,000.

The third category is to replace public sector revenue loss, which could be tricky, says Fritz.

“There’s a really strict formula on using it to replace lost revenue. We have to prove that we’ve lost revenue,” she says.

The fourth category is to address negative economic impacts by responding to economic harms to workers, families, business and nonprofits and re-hiring public sector workers.

“If there are people who are still hurting from the economic impacts, I’m assuming they can put in some kind of application, but we haven’t gotten that far,” she says, explaining that this, too, is an area where full guidance is needed before the commission will be able to move forward.

The final category is premium pay for essential workers.

“Because we were still staffed in here, we could go back and give them retroactive premium pay for having to have contact with the public the whole time,” she says. For example, during election season, Fritz’s staff members were handling ballots, overseeing voting and even going out to people’s cars to accept their ballots if they were COVID-19 positive and could not come inside.

“The electeds can’t get any premium, but the staff sure can, and they did have to be here,” she says.

Budget Timing

“The new budget starts July 1, although we haven’t passed it. We’re going to pass it on July 15, which is still four of five days ahead of statutory requirements,” says Fritz.

“Some counties have already passed their budget, but they are not necessarily going from a ‘zero base budget,’ whereas we wait until all the way to the end of the year.”

The difference, Fritz says, is essentially that some counties use an estimate of revenue to finalize their budgets, while Crook County waits until all those figures have been finalized.

“Everything goes back in the kitty and gets distributed back out, except for restricted funds like public health, county road funds and so on, because you can’t spend them on anything else,” she says.

By Friday, the County Treasurer’s Office is expected to have been able to tally and provide those final numbers, which Fritz will then incorporate in time for the July 15 deadline.

 
 

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