Commissioners OK tentative $79 million county budget |

Commissioners OK tentative $79 million county budget

by Jeff Munson

A tentative $79 million budget for fiscal year 2001-2002 was OK’d by Douglas County commissioners Thursday, minus two key elements that could alter it by the time it is adopted in May.

Still outstanding are contract negotiations with three employee unions and firm figures on health insurance costs, which are expected to increase by 30 percent. Though salaries and health care costs are already budgeted in to meet the state’s April 15 deadline for counties, the final budget outcome remains uncertain.

“It was tighter than last year’s budget and we’re still expecting to see hits with employee negotiations and health care costs. We’re balanced but still in limbo,” Commission Chairman Bernie Curtis said Friday.

In the coming weeks, commissioners want to shore up three-year contracts with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Protection Association, the Douglas County Employees Association and the East Fork Fire and Paramedic Employees Association.

Because of a tighter budget and concerns over a nationwide economic downturn that may trickle down to the state and local level, county officials remain cautious over final budget figures.

“The commission recognized and outlined economic trends for revenues and expenditures. They stressed the rising personnel costs in terms of funding ability and the ability to sustain that within our current revenue base,” said Michael Brown, assistant director of administrative service.

The county is seeing the red flags of a softening economy, Brown said, including decreases in tourism into the Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe, as well as passenger service at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Decreases in visitors means less room and sales tax revenue for the coming year.

“There are a number of factors that lead us to think the economy is softening,” Brown said. “We are concerned because the whole issue of balancing the budget will be a much harder task the next go around.”

Commissioner Steve Weissinger said these economic indicators, plus spiraling health care costs, must be figured into the employee union contract negotiations.

“The employees need to know and understand that as the cost of health care goes up, there are some things you can’t put on the table that we could have three years ago,” he said.

The effect of a tighter budget left marks in other areas of the budget as well. Sixteen departments were forced to split a $275,000 deficit to balance the general fund.

Spared from large funding hits were board supported grants. Grants were tentatively budgeted at $132,750. Commissioners settled on funding 14 grants worth $130,250. They included the Nevada Rural Counties Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, which sought $20,000 and received $15,000; the Tahoe Ski Bus, which asked for $17,500 and received $15,000; and the Carson Valley Conservation District, which sought $17,500 and received $10,000.

Even though this year’s budget is more conservative than some in the past, officials are pleased.

The county has come a long way since the mid-1990s, when the county was looking at a $1.5 million deficit, Weissinger said. To do that, the board had taken some staunch, fiscally conservative hard lines, he said. This year was no different.

“We didn’t let our guard down,” Weissinger said. “There was $400,000 in funding requests that were all warranted, but the money is not all there at this time.”