DUE TO THE FINER POINTS OF CREATIVE BUDGETING STOREY COUNTY HAS A “BALANCED” FINAL 2018 BUDGET AND YET ANOTHER YEAR WITH……………. NO TRI WINDFALL
By Nicole Barde
You can find the Agenda HERE and County Manager Pat Whitten’s summary HERE. If you want to listen to the meeting you can access the recording HERE.
During Staff updates Sheriff Antinoro announced that Highlands resident and CERT member Dave Grenninger had passed away…. he was a valuable member of CERT. He also reported that there are some gaps in the new marijuana law and that Law Enforcement will be looking at an “open container” type of approach to its use. He said that Colorado and Washington State had implemented this open container approach so there is a precedent that can be followed. He will be giving those statutes to DA Langer to help draft the statutes for Storey County.
Cherie Nevin, Community Relations Manager, reminded the board of the Community Chest groundbreaking at 4PM on Thursday May 25th as well as the Mark Twain Veterans Memorial dedication. She also announced that the Mammo-van will be in VC June 21st.
Fire Chief Jeff Nevin announced that the open burn season, which is mostly open in Mark Twain, would be ending very soon.
Pat Whitten updated the commission on the bids for the sewer project. The initial bids were a low of $16 Million and a high of $19 million and were rejected. New bids will be accepted in July. Pat indicated that $10 million is more in line with what we want. The county relooked at some of the expenses and did some reworking of the community septic system in GH to make it more cost effective. Funding for this project is 75% from the USDA and 25% from a USDA loan.
Pat also mentioned that the Storey County sponsored bill to restructure the V & T Rail Commission ( SB 57) passed by unanimous vote and that the Body Camera bill has the support of law enforcement but that the funding for it is the issue at this point.
Next up was county Comptroller Hugh Gallagher. He went thru each department’s budget numbers noting the changes from the tentative budget submitted several weeks ago to this final budget. He thanked the Commissioners for their support in the process and the department heads for their willingness to rework the numbers.
The County is required to have a balanced budget. The tentative budget was at a deficit (expenses higher than revenues) …a no-no and so it had to be cut. There are various ways to do that, among them; you can grow revenues, you can save, you can shave, you can delay or spread out expenses, you can reorganize for efficiency, you can cut services and headcount. Some of these were employed to get the budget to balance.
Net-Net the final budget (General Fund only) went from a deficit of $ 1.950 Million (expenses exceeding revenues) to a surplus of almost $11,000. YIPPIE! …….Wait a minute………..Almost $2 million in expenses were shaved out of the budget….things were cut out? Well…..not really.
One reason for the decrease is that at the time of the tentative budget the Department of Taxation hadn’t given the state the final “centrally assessed” revenue numbers. This is now complete and so the revenue for the final budget is higher by about $300k. Additionally revenues from Charges for Services revenues went up by about $100k. So, an increase in revenue decreases the deficit.
BUT….I just have to ask…WHERE’S THE TRI REVENUE WINDFALL THAT COMMISSIONER, BROTHEL OWNER AND TRI PRINCIPAL LANCE GILMAN HAS BEEN PROMISING?
This 2018 revenue is only $255k higher than last year. This is nowhere in “windfall” territory.
Areas where TRI revenues contribute to county revenues are licensing and permits and general taxes which are up about $500k but charges for services is down $217k… The trend for the last few years has been flat to slightly up…..so when do we see the hockey stick UPTREND ????
But I digress…………..
On the expense side …the really good news first.
As we all know the cost of employee benefits (medical, retirement and other perks) continues to go up. They go up in the open market but also go up as a function of negotiating with the unions who want more and more for their members. At the start of the budget cycle HR/Planning manager and Man of mystery Austin Osborn was faced with the potential of a 30% increase in benefits costs across the board, he suggested that the departments plug in an increase of 15% for the tentative budget while he conducted negotiations and tried to get it down to that level……….bottom-line he got the increases down to 6.7%!!
This is excellent. Austin has done a good job these last several years of keeping these types of expenses down. There are tradeoffs ……but all in all the employees still have good benefits, a bit more cost sharing is going on, and the county is able to manage the overall expenses. This ought to make us taxpayers happy…and it does me. Good going Austin!
SO….while SALARIES went up over last year and nothing was cut on that from the tentative budget…… part of the stupendous decrease in the budget deficit is the decrease from the assumed 15% to 6.7% in benefits expenses.
The departments in total “cut” about $600k (in round numbers) due to benefits savings, some actual savings and non-spending as well as other moves….and I do mean MOVES.
One of these moves was the moving of about $100k (for new voting machines) from the Clerks direct budget to the Capital Projects special revenue fund.
Another one was the moving of some of recently hired Public Works Director Jason Van Havel’s and his assistant’s salaries into another related special revenue fund.
I wonder what else in in those special revenue funds?
There are many, many special revenue funds. These are not usually part of the General Fund budget and so during budget time you can spread or hide expenses into some of those funds to get your visible budget approved.….once the “balanced” budget is approved you just spend your little heart out and hope that the revenues come in to cover your expenses at the end of the year and you hope that you are not in a deficit. I’m not saying that this is illegal…and the county gets audited…. this is just how the county and likely the state runs its books.
But I digress….
Additionally, for the last several years the Roads budget was augmented to the tune of $300k from general fund monies. This means that the gas taxes and other roads specific taxes haven’t been enough to cover the roads expense so the county took it out/transferred it from the General Fund. This $300k was in the tentative budget and was taken out. Another “savings”.
Next, and I have to admit that I don’t understand this…..the tentative budget had the TRI payback amount as $1.192 Million …we owe TRI a payback on their loan to us when our revenues reach a certain level…..the final budget reduced it to $596k. I don’t know how this was done. Did we just ask TRI if we could cut it? What changed since the tentative budget? Our revenues went up so how could we decrease the payback under our agreement with TRI?
So, in round back of the envelope numbers…….We started with a $ 1.950,689 deficit in the tentative budget. We adjusted the revenues up by about $450k …. the deficit goes to ~$1.500 million
The departments “saved “ another $600k in expenses….deficit goes to ~$900k.
$300k was eliminated from the roads transfer from the general fund …..deficit goes to ~$600k
And about $600k was taken out of the TRI payback …..deficit goes to zero but it’s really a surplus of about $11k……I’ve been doing a lot of rounding…..but you get the picture.
While some of the savings and shaving of the deficit was as a result of the department managers looking at what they can cut, and a slight increase in revenues….. the majority of the cuts were done thru creative budget sausage making.
So there we are.