Franklin County officials figure out how to close budget gap

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldNovember 22, 2012 

Franklin County officials have figured out a way to close a $1.5 million gap between projected expenses and revenues for the 2013 operation budget.

The preliminary $24.6 million budget maintains key county services without any across-the-board cuts.

"There is simply not enough revenue to do everything that we believe that our constituents would like us to do," Commission Chairman Brad Peck told the Herald on Wednesday.

But Peck said commissioners were able to create a balanced budget that preserves essential services.

Revenue hasn't kept pace with expenses, he said. One area in particular that has seen increases is health care costs.

"We've held a very fine line on any tax increases," he said. "We've avoided the necessity for any kind of across-the-board cuts."

And the budget has been balanced without layoffs or furloughs, he said. The county's staffing is already pared down to bare bones.

"It's a very responsible budget given the circumstances," he said.

Commissioner Rick Miller said the county has been cutting since 2009, and there isn't much left to cut. And commissioners don't want to add cost to the taxpayers, he said.

"It's just tight," he said.

The only function that is being cut in its entirety is the county's print shop and contract for printing instead, Peck said. That cut the deficit down by about $65,000.

Peck said he feels it is not efficient for the county to operate its own print shop. It also has the potential to compete with local small businesses. The person who was running the print shop already had planned to move on.

And about $344,000 from the 0.3 percent criminal justice sales tax can be used to pay for criminal justice operating expenses, according to the county auditor's office.

With the tax, 0.2 percent is paying for the construction of the new jail. The other 0.1 percent is meant to cover increased operational costs.

Peck said the county has been saving the portion for operational costs. There was a little bit more than was needed that can be used for other criminal justice expenses.

That is a valuable resource for gang suppression and criminal justice, and allows the county to enhance funding for juvenile justice, accommodate county prosecutor office needs and avoid cutting law enforcement positions, he said.

The sheriff's vehicles also will be transferred into the public works department budget, which is not part of the operating budget. That saves $444,000 from the operating budget, according to the county auditor's office.

Public works will own and maintain the vehicles in a motor pool, Peck said.

And the commissioners likely will shift another $426,000 from the county road budget to the operating budget. The preliminary operating budget already included $300,000 from the road department, according to the county auditor's office.

Miller said it is better to shift the revenue than to make more cuts.

Peck said savings in public works personnel costs because of openings during the last year has created a little extra revenue.

And money that was going out the door, no longer is, he said.

Dennis Huston, the county's former public works accounting manager, was fired in February on suspicion of embezzling about $2.8 million from the county in about 22 years.

Another public hearing on the budget will be held in December.

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