It would take 15 percent in cuts to bring Piatt County government's 2019-20 budget close to being balanced. The decision on specific reductions – whether they be cuts in operating costs and/or furloughs and layoffs – may be left up to county department heads.
After Tuesday's county board finance committee meeting, board member Dale Lattz generated a spread sheet gauging the gap between department requests made in August and the amount that could be funded by projected revenues.
That document was reviewed at another committee session Thursday morning. Two additional sessions are planned for 7 p.m. Thursday night and 9 a.m. Monday morning as the county grapples with a budget deficit in the $730,000 range.
Lattz saw his spreadsheet as a starting point for discussions, compiled because “I felt like we were going at a snail's pace trying to get this done, and we need to get this done. I wanted to put up concrete numbers that can be discussed and rehashed, changed, whatever to get down the road on this.”
Requests will be sent to department heads yet today for their input, which is expected to be in county board hands by the Monday finance committee meeting. A special county board meeting is then scheduled for Tuesday at 9 a.m. to approve a tentative budget. Final approval is expected in November for the fiscal year that begins Dec. 1.
For his department, Sheriff David Hunt said 15 percent in cuts would have to come in the form of personnel.
“You're not telling me to lay off, but you're telling me to lay off. That's really what you've doing, because it's a forced hand,” said Hunt. “I can't operate a Sheriff's office without an operational budget, so just come out and say it. Don't beat around the bush.”
All departments may not be treated equally in the budget trimming, mostly due to constitutionally-mandated officers and grants that fully fund some services.
In addition, State's Attorney Dana Rhoades pointed out that a reduction in expense would also trim revenue, since state and federal reimbursements would drop. One example is the Emergency Management Agency director, where 65 percent of the salary is paid for by three funding mechanisms outside of the county.
It was also pointed out that balanced budgets of recent years have not resulted in balanced spending in reality, such as 2017-18, where the county spent about $1 million more than was brought in despite a balanced budget.
“This is my opinion, but if it took six or seven years to get to this point, it's not really reasonable to make up that deficit in one year,” added Hunt. “I can see making cuts. I'm willing to make cuts. But we should do that over a two- or three-year period.”
County board member Shannon Carroll agreed somewhat, and wondered if there could be a multi-year approach to cuts instead of requiring so much in one year.
“Fifteen percent is actually what is needed, but what is the compromise of time frame? Could it be 5 percent times three? But then we're working with an unbalanced budget, so it's a tug of war,” said Carroll.
Department cuts that have already been volunteered or suggested would be included in the 15 percent if that option is pursued. For example, about $100,000 is already proposed in Sheriff's Department reductions, but that would still leave him with $280,000 more to reach the 15 percent goal.
County board member Bob Murrell pointed out that balanced budgets in the past have not been accurate markers of spending, and wondered if 2019-2020 would be any different.
“To me, it's just a show,” he said. “There are no consequences if anyone goes over budget.”
Even the 15 percent would leave the budget an estimated $100,000 from being balanced. County board members hope revenue adjustments could make up the difference, including possible rent increases, reduction of mileage reimbursement rates, or having employees pick up more of their health care insurance costs.
County Board Chairman Ray Spencer said refinancing a $250,000 loan that paid for a courthouse roof and elevator rehab could also save the county a $35,000 payment next year.
Tonight's meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the county courthouse in Monticello.