County struggles with 2003 budget
SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County Government must cut $2 million to $3 million from its budget for 2003, and County Manager Ron Holliday said that likely means the loss of some employees and services.
“You do the math,” he said. “A great deal of our budget is made up of salary. We hope not, but it’s going to be difficult not to look at some personnel decisions.
“I can’t imagine we won’t (have loss of services), but I haven’t detected lots of fat out there. It’s going to be a hard, hard year for decision-making.”
Holliday, with the commissioners’ endorsement, is reviewing 2003 as a zero-based budget. That means all county department heads have been asked to consider their budgets as though their doors were closed, figuring what they’d need just to get up and running.
They must first consider mandated services, then those relating to public health and safety. Lastly, they have been asked to take a look at services categorized as discretionary. Department heads are then asked to prepare their total 2002 budgets, showing commissioners what the impact would be if 5 percent of their lowest priority budget items were not included in it.
In March, the Summit County commissioners made $900,000 in budget cuts, citing a dramatic reduction in sales tax revenues and building inspection fees. The financial picture hasn’t improved since then, and Holliday said the target in 2003 is to cut another $2 million to $3 million from the amended 2002 budget. After the $900,000 in cuts, the county is left with $19.6 million in its general fund budget.
Holliday said Summit County government isn’t the only one facing such cuts.
“We’ve been blessed with double-digit increases, and that’s happened year after year after year,” he said. “It isn’t happening right now. We’re not in it alone. It’s happening all across the country.”
In addition to falling sales tax revenues, the financial challenges are exacerbated by other issues.
“We’ve got additional health care costs that appear to be sizable,” Holliday said. “We anticipate that increasing as much as $1 million.
“One of the board’s priorities is to build back some reserves for emergency management. If you can build some reserves, you can take some of these ups and downs.”
County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom said those reserves are “our savings account for a rainy day.”
“That is quite literally our emergency reserves,” he said.
A presentation of the recommended budget will come before the Summit County commissioners Monday, Oct. 7. Public hearings are set for mid- to late-November, and adoption is slated for early December.
While Holliday said the zero-based budgeting is a “much more comprehensive” way to create budget decreases than methods such as percentage decreases, it’s not easy for the county’s 500 employees.
“It just makes my heart ache to know we’ve got these weeks of uncertainty in front of us,” Holliday said. “I wish we could get through this tomorrow. The employees are hanging in there as best they can.”
Scott Vargo, the county’s human resources director, said there is some tension among county workers.
“People are just a little bit uncomfortable with what’s taking place,” he said. “They don’t know how anything is going to impact them.
“It’s difficult for people like Ron (Holliday) and myself in management positions to assure them one way or the other about what’s going to happen with their position, pay, benefits, because we don’t know what the outcome of the budget process is going to be.”
Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com
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