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Budget is already balanced in Douglas County

by Sheila Gardner

Douglas County’s budget for fiscal year 1999-00 totals $77,355,700 and is already balanced, according to a draft analysis to be presented to commissioners next week during two days of hearings.

In his report to commissioners, County Manager Dan Holler said balancing the $24,450,153 general fund and other operating budgets was difficult, but did not have the level of initial budget deficits as in previous years.

“Once the initial revenue estimates and departmental budget requests were received, the ‘budget gap’ in the general fund was surprisingly small, less than $250,000,” he said. “In prior years, this ‘gap’ has exceeded $1 million.”

The balancing process required financial expertise, negotiation, communication, cooperation and teamwork from all of those involved, Holler said.

The general fund revenue for fiscal year 1999-00 comes in projected at $21.3 million. This represents a 4.9 percent increase over the fiscal year 1998-99 adopted budget.

Holler said the county continues to face a “very fiscally tight” general fund as initial department requests exceeded resources available.

The process is complicated by the fact that a large part of expenditures are for mandated functions and are personnel driven.

“The purpose of these tentative budget hearings is to present the budget recommendations and requests from staff,” Holler said in his report. “The tentative budget may be modified based on board direction. There may also be changes in revenue projections or expenditures due to better information being available prior to the adoption of the final budget.”

The fiscal year total does not include 11 town funds.

Holler outlined several changes in the general fund from the previous fiscal year. They include:

– Deputies. Continued funding for five deputies hired under the $125,000 Community Oriented Policing federal grant of fiscal year 1997-98, which is no longer available. The new budget includes $5,000 in deferred drug seizure funds to help cover staff costs. The general fund is providing $206,000 for vehicle replacement, up $6,000 from the last fiscal year. An additional vehicle is to be funded out of current year savings to help cover vehicle needs.

– Grand jury. District Court judges David Gamble and Michael Gibbons have asked that a county Grand Jury be convened in fiscal year 1999-00. The last Grand Jury was convened six years ago. The budget includes $100,000 for jurors’ fees, transcribing, court reporter services, security and bailiff charges and other personnel expenses.

“It’s important to note that most of the county’s revenues are restricted for specific purposes,” Holler said.

“Combining restricted revenues with mandated services and programs leaves considerably little discretionary funding for county services.”

The 34 restricted funds in Douglas County comprise 65 percent of the budget.

The board will also be considering allocation of the new 1 percent Transient Occupancy Tax to be levied in East Fork Township (Carson Valley), effective July 1.

The Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Authority, which requested implementation of the tax, has asked the revenue be passed through to them for promotional purposes. The tax is estimated to generate $56,000.

Holler said several personnel changes are noteworthy in the fire district budget, including reactivation of a deputy fire chief position for emergency medical services and administration, left vacant in recent years due to funding constraints.

The draft budget also includes six new, full-time paramedics being added to cover the increasing volume of calls for service. Construction of the new Gardnerville Ranchos combination fire-medic station should begin in June.

n Biggest expenditure. Personal services – wages, salaries and benefits – represent the largest expenditure category in the budget and, generally, is the predominant expense of department budgets. Personal services account for $22,463,916 or 42 percent of total expenditures. This represents a 4.6 percent increase over last year’s adopted budget.

“While there are still a number of policy issues for the board (of County Commissioners) to work through, the basic direction from the board to work toward presenting them with a balanced general fund budget with minimal or no impacts on services was achieved,” Holler said. “This is the result of the difficult decisions made over at least the past four years in the areas of employee and service reductions, holding the line on employee costs and stable revenue.”

The 1999-00 draft general fund includes just over $500,000 in appropriated, undesignated reserves. The reserves were carried forward from a greater than anticipated ending fund balance set aside in the last fiscal year.

Budget hearings are scheduled March 17 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Douglas County Administration Building in Minden (Old Courthouse). A second session is scheduled March 18 at 3 p.m. in the same location after commissioners conclude their regular meeting at the administration building at Stateline.

By law, a tentative budget must be filed with the State of Nevada by April 15, with a final budget filed by June 1.