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Commission faces budget shortfall

12/17/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

The Ellis County Commission approved a resolution at Monday's meeting at the Ellis County Courthouse authorizing a contingency budget allocation from the county's emergency accounts of $404,500 to cover anticipated shortfalls in seven departments.

The county jail will receive $145,000; EMS $100,000; information technology $65,000; attorney $38,000; weed control $32,000; courts $16,000; coroner $8,500.

The money to cover the anticipated shortfalls will come from the administrator's contingency fund ($89,00) and the emergency/disaster contingency budget ($315,500). The county's budget policy requires a plan to replace the money taken out of the emergency/disaster fund within three years.

County Administrator Greg Sund said the way the county's budget is put together has changed.

"All these budgets are affected to some extent by the changes that the auditors made (in) 2012," Sund said. "Part of that we learned about in mid-2013.

"We're not doing reimbursements we were doing because according to the auditors ... they should just be counted as revenues."

Sund said reimbursements now need to be directly related to expenditures, so charging a fee is not a reimbursement.

"We can't count the same thing in the past as budget credit," Sund said. "There's things the auditors have told us don't qualify as budget credit, or reimbursements. When you don't use the term budget credit for reimbursement, the cash is still coming in."

Commissioner Barbara Wasinger asked if the cash was being reflected in the budget numbers. If not, she wondered if the anticipated budget shortfall would be less than $400,000.

"It does offset some of the numbers," Sund said. "Traditionally, we have about a quarter million dollars in reimbursements."

"So the total wouldn't necessarily be $404,500, maybe more half of that," Wasinger said. "Would that be correct?"

"It could be something in that range," Sund said.

"There's a big difference between about a half a million dollars and $200,000," Wasinger said. "This doesn't give me any kind of accurate numbers.

"I get that they call it different things. Are we spending $400,000, do we have to come up with $400,000, or do we actually have to come up with $250,000 to figure out what we're doing? This whole thing just made me crazy."

Wasinger asked how she is to explain it to constituents who contact her.

"You could call it anything you want to, but if we're not spending as much money, I want to know how much money we really are spending," she said, adding the $404,500 is not the accurate total.

"The budget will look better when it's done," Sund said.

Commissioners also asked EMS Director Kerry McCue and Sheriff Ed Harbin about their budgets.

McCue reminded commissioners he told them during the budget process approximately $120,000 to $130,000 was taken out of his budget request for 2013. Commissioners Swede Holmgren and Dean Haselhorst were part of that discussion; Wasinger was not yet on the commission.

"The numbers that I submitted for my budget for this year are not the numbers I received," McCue said. "It was a significant cut."

"Between you and Sheriff Harbin, that's a quarter million dollars," Wasinger said. "I also want to understand how we go back to the taxpayers and say we need another quarter million dollars here and another quarter million dollars here, so we'll just raise your taxes."

"I came to the county administrator with the numbers I thought were appropriate -- it was cut, dramatically," McCue said. "Secondly, I have said numerous times I was not in favor the way PTO (paid time off) was paid out, and that would have dramatic results on our budget."

Haselhorst said he recalled McCue's warning during the budget process.

"You said this is going to come back to haunt us, paid time off," Haselhorst said. "You had no idea at that point how much paid time off it was going to be. I guess you pre-warned us."

Haselhorst asked McCue to come up with recommendations to address the issue of PTO in his department.

Harbin's jail budget reflected approximately $20,000 for a new jailer position added during the fiscal year. The rest is expenses.

"We had a huge increase in out-of-county inmate fees," Harbin said.

The cost of medication for prisoners also increased, Harbin said.

"One of the things that's affected Ed the last couple of years is when we divided the jail out from the sheriff," in the budget, Sund said.

"This has been a little bit of a learning process. It used to be one operation. It's really the jail the one we're having issues."

Harbin said costs continue to go up, and he anticipates that will continue to be the case.

"It's been increasing; it's always increasing," he said.