Officials warn county bottom line redlining
Douglas County’s ending fund balance, used for everything from health benefits to computer replacements, will be an estimated $2 million less than last year. The fiscal year won’t end until July, but it’s a trend that isn’t expected to slow down soon and some county officials are nervous.
Calling for more efforts to curb expenses, commissioner David Brady said the budget was snowballing in the wrong direction.
“We’ve gone from using $350,000 in reserves to tripling that and the trend isn’t improving,” Brady said. “We are slow to respond to the loss in revenues. We need to do that by looking at our expenditure side and establishing more cost cutting controls.”
Other counties are addressing this issue and Douglas County needs to do that as well, he said.
“We can’t just say, we have the funding for the next month and we’re good for 30 days,” he said. “We need to take a more proactive approach.”
County officials typically underestimate revenues, giving the county at least some surplus. On the expenditure side, Nevada Law requires expenditures to be lower than the actual budget.
The resulting revenue balance, known as the ending fund balance, is used for everything from new computers and the county’s “extraordinary maintenance” fund to the public employee benefits system, Douglas County Comptroller Claudette Springmeyer said.
This year, the projected ending fund balance is $392,456 less than expected. When compared to last year’s $1.7 million ending fund balance, the difference is $2 million.
The deficit means there won’t be money for the 20 to 30 computers due for replacement, nor for other special projects. When the ending fund balance is low, the county dips into reserves, Springmeyer said.
This year, reserves will be needed to fund a number of expenditures, including $100,000 for the Grand Jury, according to county officials.
“The money simply isn’t there,” Springmeyer said. “That’s one-time money without an ongoing revenue stream, which ties into our concerns for the current fiscal year.”
Major revenue shortfalls include building permits, which came in $773,000 less that the prior year and recorder fees, which were $90,000 less than the prior year, according to County figures.
“We’re starting the process for the 2008-09 budget and we’ll be looking closely at ways to cut back,” Springmeyer said. “We have contract obligations that affect salaries and benefits. Health insurance, PEBS and medical insurance are the big numbers and they’re going up whether we want them to or not.
“With those types of obligations, we must cut expenditures other ways,” she said.
For example, a 60-day hiring freeze on any vacated position in the county could save about three-months’ salary, but it’s a temporary measure, Springmeyer said.
“The delay saves money while we aren’t paying for that position,” she said. “But it doesn’t alleviate those costs the following year.”
Springmeyer, who has worked with the county for almost 20 years, said she’s seen tight times before, but Douglas County’s population numbers were lower. With an increase in the population comes an increased need for services and subsequent demands on the budget.
• Susie Vasquez can be reached at email@example.com or 782-5121, ext. 211.