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County budget has shortfall of $4.3 million

March 05, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County is facing a $4.3 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2004, Director of Finance Debra Bastian told the County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioner John C. Munson said the commissioners will have to cut the $142.2 million proposed fiscal year 2004 general fund budget to make up for the shortfall.

The $142.2 million represents the county's proposed expenses. Bastian, however, said she anticipates receiving $137.9 million in revenue for next year, resulting in the shortfall.

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"We will have to make cuts in the current proposal to come up with a balanced budget," Snook said.

The county revenue comes mainly from property and income taxes. Bastian said she anticipates the county will receive $74,850,197 in revenue from property taxes and $50,105,039 in income tax revenue for next year, in addition to other smaller sources of revenue.

Snook said it's not unusual for the county to be faced with a shortfall this early in budget discussions because the commissioners still have to sort out proposed expenses. The commissioners tentatively are scheduled to adopt the budget on May 13.

The proposed fiscal year 2004 budget is $8.5 million more than the 2003 budget of $133.7 million.

Of that $8.5 million, the Washington County Board of Education has asked for $7.1 million to go toward general operating expenses for fiscal year 2004.

The $7.1 million increase would raise the county's contribution to the School Board to $77,242,854, a 10.1 percent increase over last year's allocation of $70,142,854.

"I feel reasonably sure they're not going to get it because we don't have it," Munson said of the proposed increase. "The Board of Education has got to learn to live within their budget. They think money grows on trees."

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said Tuesday night the increase is needed to meet the costly needs of educating children, including expenses resulting from President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" law.

The law calls for school systems to meet high standards set by federal mandates. Morgan said local elected leaders throughout the nation are struggling with ways to come up with money to pay for Bush's mandates.

"It is our job to spend what we need to educate our children under the federal law," Morgan said. "It's the commissioners' job to come up with the revenue to meet the children's needs."

Morgan said the School Board's needs for fiscal year 2004 are about $13 million, but the board sliced the request to the county down to $7.1 million. The request includes about $4.1 million in differentiated pay for teachers, $2 million to cover health insurance increases and money for new textbooks, new school buses and other expenses.

Morgan said differentiated pay would raise the salary of teachers who take on extra duties to increase student achievement.

The School Board's total proposed budget for fiscal year 2004 is about $150 million, Morgan said.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department has requested a $1,214,164 increase, or 9.68 percent, from the county next year for its $13,751,918 budget. The sheriff's department's fiscal year 2003 budget was $12,537,754.

Sheriff Charles F. Mades said Tuesday he could not comment on the department's proposed increases because he was at home and did not have the appropriate information available.

The sheriff's department budget is made up of money for the judicial, patrol and detention divisions and the Narcotics Task Force.

According to the county, the proposed department budget includes $961,900 for the judicial division, an increase of $67,148 over 2003's $894,752 judicial budget. It also includes $5,094,980 for the patrol division, which is an increase of $669,997 over the 2003 patrol budget of $4,424,983.

The sheriff's department budget also includes $7,364,874 for the detention division, which is $452,103 more than 2003's $6,912,771 budget. The $330,164 proposed for the Narcotics Task Force is a $24,916 increase over the $305,248 budget in 2003.

The School Board and sheriff's department make up about 80 percent of the county's budget, Snook said.

Munson said the commissioners will be faced with tough decisions on what to cut, and that he doesn't expect to please all groups that depend on county funding.

"We're going to make people happy, and we're going to make people mad," Munson said.

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