SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – More belt-tightening is on the way as San Miguel County prepares its 2011 budget, but not nearly as much as would have resulted had three anti-tax measures on the statewide ballot succeeded in gaining voter approval last week.
“Lean,” is how Commissioner Joan May characterized the coming fiscal year, when general fund revenues, hit by declining use tax, permit, fee, interest and other earnings, are projected to come in at under $9.4 million, or about 7 percent less than the amount budgeted by the county in 2010.
Nearly half of the $680,000 difference between the two budget years results from the expected downward adjustment of property values during next year’s annual real estate assessment.
“We’re anticipating a $300,000 reduction in property tax revenue,” said County Administrator Lynn Black.
As a result, “We need to hold the line on our expenditures and hope our revenues come back.”
Despite the projected shortfalls, Black held onto a reserved measure of hope that some county revenues could begin to rebound next year.
“I think sales tax, use tax, permits and fees may be bouncing around the bottom and we might be looking at slight up-tick,” she said.
Still, with revenues generally poised to head south, the county plans to reduce its 2011 expenditures by about $800,000 from the $10 million it budgeted in 2010.
Yet even with the projected revenue and spending cuts, the county is still making room in the new budget to fill five of eight vacant positions in the Sheriff’s Office, including two waivers to a hiring freeze implemented in the 2010 budget.
In order to fill those positions, “We’re using some reserves, we’re not doing increases on salaries,” explained May. Additionally, “We decreased health insurance payments somewhat and we’re not buying new equipment,” she continued.
“We pretty much cut corners everywhere we could just to make sure we could get some of those positions back, but we’ll still be down in that department.”
Additionally, a full-time 4-H Club coordinator position eliminated last year will be filled with less expensive, part-time contractor.
Similar to the budget policy put in place for the 2010 budget, county employees are not expected to receive cost of living increases this year. However, a 2.5 percent merit increase is being recommended for all eligible employees making less than $62,000 a year – an $18,000 decrease from the $80,000 qualifying limit set last year.
The difference in earning limits has to do with changes to county’s health insurance policy, Black said.
The county also anticipates cutting the $100,000 in grant funding it provided to community non-profits last year in half to $50,000.
“One of the big things is they cut non-profit funding,” said County Finance Manager Ramona Rummel.
“But the Open Space Fund is now funding some community support requests.”
Earlier in the year the county advised its grantees that no funding would be available to them in next year’s budget, but some unexpected earnings allowed $50,000 to be reinstated for next year.
The upside to the cuts is that furloughs and layoffs of county employees are not anticipated.
“We’d like to stay away from doing layoffs,” said May, “But I think over time we’re going to have to look and see if there are more efficient ways to restructure the organization.”
Nor are the cuts expected to affect services.
“Service levels will not be reduced,” confirmed Rummel.
Overall, the draft 2011 budget for all funds is running 4 percent behind the 2010 adopted budget, with the Road and Bridge Fund expected to remain flat, and increases projected for the county Retirement, Open Space and Lodging Tax funds.
Given the extended recessionary climate, the county’s Social Services Fund is expected to increase by 30 percent (about $279,000) in next year’s budget in order to fund the increasing demand for food stamps and other services. The majority of that money will come from state and federal sources.
Since January 2008 the number of families receiving food stamps in San Miguel County more than doubled from 69 to 159 families this past spring.
The 2011 budget will be presented during a public hearing on Dec. 7, with adoption scheduled for Dec. 15.