by Jackie Bubis
As I sat in on four days of budget hearings, I came away with some observations. By law, the county must balance the budget for the coming year. The process started on Tuesday with over $1M over budget.
Since the Board recently changed health insurance carriers – touted as a huge savings – those numbers in each department decreased the bottom line as the process went along. The employees have only heard through the grapevine about this change and are hoping fervently that the coverage isn’t reduced as well.
Right off the bat, meeting with Sheriff Byerly, Mrs. Hood stated that at some point we may have to look at the Sheriff’s Office becoming its own taxing district. “Because that’s going to free up what went to you and that might be an answer down the road to help us with our general fund.” Sheriff Byerly’s budget is just under a million dollars. (This would put at least that much more burden on the taxpayers of the county.)
The CCEDC, represented by Charles Bogle, is asking for $23,250 from the county coffers to add to the over $2M project for the six towers that, in theory, will bring broadband to the area. When Mr. Printz queried Mr. Bogle about the project and how many additional people would have broadband, Mr. Bogle skirted the issue. However, a look at the math-challenged study that the CCEDC continues to tout, that number IS known. Another 870 properties should be covered for that $2M+, bringing the cost of the project to $2,687 per property. Mr. Kattnig asked who would own the towers and was told they would belong to the county. When Mr. Kattnig stated he wasn’t sure the county wanted to own the towers – due to the ongoing maintenance costs – Mr. Bogle assured him that the revenue would outweigh the costs. If this is true, one wonders why SECOM or Hilltop or another private enterprise doesn’t jump at the chance to do the project.
Affordable Housing wants got a thumbs-up from the BOCC on their $10K for a comprehensive study on what is needed. The last study is from 2008. Since any affordable housing would be built in the towns, one wonders if they should not have pitched in for this study.
When the Planning and Zoning department met with the Board, the elephant was missing from the budget. Apparently, John Piquette took out any funding for a building inspector so we still don’t know what saying yes to that ballot issue might cost.
The requests from the lottery funds were about $8K over projected income to that fund. Pat Kerns, from the Saddle Club, after hearing all the other requests, made a generous move by withdrawing his $5,000 request. Kudos to him for that. When looking for other areas to cut, the discussion moved to requests by the Wetmore Library. Mr. Printz stated, “If they need more books or a visual aid machine or something, I would love to see them have a bake sale or something to help themselves out. I’m fine reducing it considering how much money we’ve put into this monstrosity.” He went on to say that “Once we establish our policies down there, it’s not going to just be an open room for anybody that walks in.” The Board proceeded to discuss that the Wetmore community center will have to raise some revenue with fees charged for weddings and special events. (It is my understanding that they have been doing that all along.)
Of the three members of the Board, Mr. Printz seemed the most concerned with taxpayer dollars.
The upshot, at the end of the week was that about half a million dollars would need to be pulled from the $1.9M reserve for Road and Bridge. Remember that Road and Bridge has its own mill levy and it does not seem unrealistic to use a portion of that reserve to improve the road situation. Of course, this week was just the first run at the budget. Once the new numbers are plugged in, taxpayers and Board members will have a better idea what else needs to be done to balance.