There haven’t been too many budget sessions in the last five years that left the participants whistling a jaunty tune, but the first night of Douglas County budget hearings very nearly had that effect.
With a balanced tentative general fund budget, and the prospect of another one next year, there wasn’t much to complain about. Commissioners offered their thanks to the employee associations, whose assistance was critical in stabilizing the budget, and the elected officials, whose departments were affected by budget cuts of the last years.
While the county was meeting in Minden, Douglas County School Board trustees were working on their tentative budget up at Lake Tahoe, where they faced a $1 million deficit.
Both the county and the school district have been challenged by the Great Recession, but they’ve had other challenges over the past years as well.
Thanks to a three-year contract with employees, one of the key issues for the county was resolved last year.
The school district is a little more complicated. Unlike the county, the Legislature determines funding for the state’s school districts, collecting 75 cents per $100 assessed valuation and then doling it back out to the districts based on student population. In Douglas, that population has decreased every year for the last seven years, so even if the Legislature didn’t cut the school budgets, there were cuts to deal with.
As every year when the Legislature meets, the school district won’t quite know how much money it has to spend until after state law requires it to file a final budget. That makes the tentative budget even more so, and means that the district has to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Government budgeting may seem an esoteric topic to most folks, but the county and the school district are among the top 10 employers in Douglas County. That’s a lot of people who pay taxes, shop in stores and donate to causes. What happens to them is of concern to all of us.