A recent decision by the Delaware County commissioners to return to a commissioner based budget process is expected to possibly save jobs and streamline the budget process.
“It’s like herding cats,” said Doug Smith, County Commissioner chairman of the previous process.
The now defunct eight member Budget Board had to estimate on the budget needs, he said.
“This year it was obvious we had a shortfall,” Smith said. “We are really in a budget crisis.
“We want to streamline the process and to avoid setting a budget on projected revenue. The old way of working with budgets may possibly save jobs.”
The Budget Board was established in 2012 after legislators passed a new law setting up the board. Smith said the commissioner based budget process had been in place since statehood – 1907.
Other counties, Smith said, are also returning to a commissioner-based budget process.
The county’s finances for the current fiscal year which ended on Friday, June 30, is fine, but Smith said he is worried about next year.
The county’s budget, which is just shy of $5 million, took several hits during the 2016-17 fiscal year.
The state motor vehicle tax collected was normally spread evenly over 77 counties, now most of the money goes to areas were the population is greater, Smith said, meaning the county took a $130,00 cut in that revenue stream.
Another hit was for more than $100,000 for the two-year audit plan, Smith said.
“The carryover just wasn’t there,” Smith said referring to other budget woes.
As a result, Smith asked the Budget Board to look at cutbacks within their departments.
“The biggest cost we have is employees,” Smith said.
The commissioners took the lead and in May cut the department’s secretary position, a $45,000 per year position.
“That wasn’t all salary,” Smith said. “Of that $45,000 – 40 percent was benefits.”
Other cuts included two employees in Russell Martin’s District No. 2 and reduced pay by five percent, he said. District No. 3, Martin Kirk's area, also elected not to fill three positions as a cost-saving measure.
The commissioners also took the retirement funds of road crew employees for a six-month period and paid those accounts out of the highway cash account, Smith said.
“I don’t know if we will have the revenue to sustain our fiscal year 2017-18 budget needs,” Smith said. “There could possibly be more workforce reductions – I hope not.”
One of the bright spots occurred when Delaware County Sheriff Harlan Moore turned back in $145,000, which was a result of unfilled employment positions, he said.
“There are pros and cons for both processes,” Moore said. “I look forward to working with the commissioners and building a strong sheriff’s department and a strong county.”
Larena Ellis Cook, Delaware County Assessor echoed Moore’s comments.
“I think the budget board was good in some respects,” Cook said. “Our department found a small discrepancy and we able to collect $2,000 which was deposited in the county’s general fund account.”
Several employees from the Assessor’s office have retired, reducing the department’s work force from 18 to 13 employees.
“We are also paying employee benefits out of other funds,” Cook said, adding that one of her department's greatest expenses is the mandatory seven month training the assessor’s employees must take.
Delaware County Clerk Barbara Barnes said her seven member department held off filling a position and now the overburden staff has picked up the job responsibilities of the vacant commissioner’s secretary’s post.
Barnes said the increased workload may prompt hiring someone in the future.