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Commissioners chip away at $3.9 million shortfall

By Staff | Dec 27, 2013

Jefferson County Commissioners heard Thursday from their former County Administrator Leslie Smith, whom they had hired as a consultant to help explain their budget crisis. Smith, while giving suggestions on how to better get a handle on the budget, summed it up simply by telling the group of five that they cannot continue to spend more than they bring in.

“You have to survived on the revenues you have,” she said. She went on to say that “every revenue coming into the county was reduced, but every expenditure was increased, substantially increased.”

Smith advised commissioners that they need to take a more active role in monitoring spending She suggested that a purchase order policy be created and that the commissioners approve every purchase order, before the spending occurs.

She also told the leaders that they should spend the time to go through the budget line by line to see where potential mistakes have been made and to see where spending can be cut. Smith told them that a large portion of their budget goes to salaries and they may have to look at that area. She indicated that the need may be for more work to be taken on by fewer people rather than hiring additional staff when their appears to be a shift toward an increase in work.

Smith’s findings were backed up by County Finance Director Tim Stanton, whom the county recently hired. Stanton came to the meeting with a list of voluntary cuts that county departments and elected offices have put forth. The commissioners voted to accept all of the voluntary returns of funds which a reduction of $1,293,407.

Commissioners then listened to potential suggestions for additional cuts from Stanton.

The group, led by President Dale Manuel, vehemently opposed any reduction in force and shot down any moves that would cause salary decrease or loss of jobs.

Commissioner Walt Pellish indicated his belief that cuts to the county’s Economic Development Authority should rather be increases.

” We need to make investments here,” he said as he explained that bringing business into the county will be the only way to increase revenues.

A discussion of a hiring freeze had Lyn Widmyer saying that the vacant zoning administrator position is essential to complete the county’s comprehensive plan. The group did vote to place a freeze on all vacant positions, including that position.

A call for a cut of $268,000 to the county’s fire departments and Emergency Services Agency had members of those groups on hand to stress that services would be inhibited severely with such a cut. Some of the smaller fire departments may actually have to close their doors, said Ed Hannon, deputy director of the ESA.

In a written statement approved by the ESA board at their meeting last Tuesday, the agency said, “The current JCESA budget is 85% personnel and benefits and any cut will of necessity impact staffing. A reduction of this magnitude halfway through the fiscal year would require a complete furlough of personnel ten (10) weeks by June 30. We cannot begin to express the detrimental impact a lapse in EMS response would have on the life and safety of Jefferson County residents.”

In addition to each department giving up voluntary funds, the commission looked at other places where funds could be cut. While a final vote will come at their next meeting, consensus was reached that the annual “two and a half percent money” that is skimmed from the top of video lottery funding to donate to local nonprofits would not be given. Organizations such as the Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic, Jefferson County Community Ministries and others will receive no allocation from the county this year. The total of that nonprofit fund is approximately $250,000.

The group discussed reducing funding to the four libraries in the county by $32,500 each which is the remaining allocation to be awarded in the current fiscal year. To cut such an amount from each of the three public libraries would also see a matching amount cut from the state funding which relies on local dollars. Rather than make such a drastic move, the commissioners agreed to cut 12 percent from each of the entities, similar to the 12 percent cut discussed and adopted for other agencies.

The group also agreed to eliminate funding to the Solid Waste Authority in the amount of $18,375. Those dollars, the group explained, currently fund the county’s “free day” at the landfill where residents can take a certain amount of refuse at no cost. The commissioners plan to cut the funding following the January “free day” to allow time to notify the public.

The commissioners voted on and approved several financial policies which will help them get a better handle on the upcoming budget as well as keep control over the rest of this fiscal year. The group will meet throughout January to determine how else to reduce their budget.