County budget balancing act a big hit
With the first balanced tentative general fund budget in five years, even Commission Chairman Greg Lynn had reason to smile on Tuesday night.
“This is a far more comfortable discussion than we’ve had in the past,” Lynn said.
Unlike past years, the sheriff’s office didn’t have to sacrifice its new vehicle purchase, there was $15,000 for the Ski Club bus, and county staff found $1 million for the road fund.
County Manager Steve Mokrohisky presented a balanced $45.43 million tentative general fund budget, which county commissioners approved.
They also approved budgets for the county’s three transportation funds and the two redevelopment funds.
Budget hearings concluded Wednesday at the Douglas County Administrative Building.
Mokrohisky said using priority-based budgeting, and looking ahead at future county revenues and expenses, were key in producing this year’s budget and reducing future general fund deficits.
The budget was balanced in part by carrying forward unused contingency funds from one year to the next and keeping it at 1.5 percent, which has been more than sufficient in past years.
Between that and charging cost allocations to federal grants, the county was able to balance the general fund.
According to the county’s five-year projection, the budget will balance this year and next year, but will face a $28,000 deficit in 2015-16 and a $395,875 deficit in 2017-18. Over that time costs are expected to increase by $3.7 million in property and consolidated taxes. Other revenue sources are predicted to remain flat during that time. Expenses are forecast to increase by $4.1 million.
It also helped that the county’s employee associations had agreed to accept a three-year contract that increased salaries a percent last year.
“We owe a lot of thank-yous to get where we are,” Commissioner Doug Johnson said.
Commissioner Nancy McDermid pointed out that the county had a quiet year for once to work out a budget.
“Before we’ve had employee negotiations while we’ve been going through the budget process and on odd years having the Legislature in session,” she said. “We couldn’t have planned for five years if we didn’t have the associations working with us.”
The sole member of the public to comment Tuesday was Jack Van Dien, who asked why the sheriff’s office required such expensive vehicles.
Sheriff Ron Pierini said his department is purchasing seven new vehicles for $300,000. Rather than spend the money on patrol cars, the sheriff’s office is purchasing extended cab pickups like those used by the Nevada Highway Patrol. He said they’re cheaper, and with four-wheel drive are good for bad weather. He said it had been three years since the sheriff’s office had received money for new vehicles.
Commissioners approved all three transportation budgets 4-1, including $15,000 for the Ski Club Bus. Commissioner Barry Penzel voted against including it in the Tahoe Douglas Transportation District fund. The fund essentially pays the debt service on the Tahoe Transportation Center and for snow removal and maintenance on the three miles of road the county maintains at the Lake.
Mokrohisky said there was room in the fund for the ski bus, which was included in the district’s budget until two years ago to help balance it.
Penzel said he felt that providing $15,000 for the ski bus was something the 86 or so students’ parents should be doing.
“I think we owe the citizens of the county more discussion on this,” he said.
Providing transportation for the Douglas County Ski Club to Heavenly Ski Resort has been a long county tradition.
Lynn said the ski bus was a part of Douglas County cultural life.
“It’s what we do here,” he said.
Both the administrative and capital redevelopment funds were approved by county commissioners. Redevelopment takes in $2 million a year, which will go to paying off the district’s debt this year. Mokrohisky said that at the end of next year, money will be available for a new project. County staff suggested the completion of Vista Grande between Topsy Lane and Jacks Valley Road, and the repair of the current Vista Grande.
It would take two years to do both projects, Mokrohisky said.
“Given the congestion up there, I don’t know how we could do without it,” Lynn said of the extension.
McDermid agreed, pointing out that the arrival of the Carson City Freeway a short distance down the road would drive additional traffic in the north county when it opens.