The Clarke County Supervisors sent a message that they are not through looking for cost savings in the evolving FY 2012 budget. On Thursday night the finance committee spent two hours combing through county spending and accounts in hopes of closing a $364K budget deficit in the coming year.
Indications from last night’s meeting imply that further cuts are likely, but at least one new spending initiative was offered; spending for a new county historic district designation.
The finance committee, comprised of Supervisors Michael Hobert (Berryville) and John Staelin (Millwood), Joint Administrative Services Director Tom Judge and County Administrator David Ash, convened for a two-hour “budget balance brainstorming” session. During the session, Judge presented budget reduction options that could provide up to $391K in immediate funding cuts and a possible $144K in savings related to the proposed combined senior center / park office project.
Other long-term, but less defined revenue generation options were also considered.
“We asked county staff to â€˜think outside of the box’ to come up with ideas for reducing our $364K deficit” said Supervisor Staelin. “Just how realistic the proposals are, we don’t know. There’s no secret agenda here.”
Staelin pointed out that while the formal budget deficit is $364K, this year’s budget is being supplemented by $1.24M in “one-time” previously designated capital funding, bringing the true budget deficit to $1.6M.
“The danger here is that some of the capital funds are being used for the operating budget and it’s not clear where that money will come from next year” Staelin said.
Judge presented a methodic and well-researched set of budget alternatives aimed at improving not only the county’s budget bottom-line, but also on-going operational efficiency. “I’ve shown $391K of reductions on paper but not all of that will be achievable” Judge cautioned.
Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Options (Click to view options discussed at last night’s meeting.)
Of the immediate cost cutting ideas placed on the table last night, the largest target elimination of $274K for part-time staff used to supplement the county’s full-time workforce. Judge proposed that the county re-assign existing full-time staff on an “as needed” basis to cover the workload currently being performed by part-timers.
“Many of these positions were brought in to help during the time when the economy was strong and the county was very busy” Judge said. “Things are a lot slower now.”
While some of the part-time positions, like law enforcement assistance and swimming pool lifeguards, require specially trained staff and cannot be easily covered by other county staff members, other office and administrative functions could be covered with existing staff.
Just how much of the potential part-time saving can be achieved will fall to County Administrator David Ash who the committee directed to explore the cost-saving option with the county’s various operating teams.
Other budget saving options presented last night appeared to be straight-forward, like tapping funding accounts that have long remained dormant and using funds generated from sources outside of the county.
The committee recommended that interest balances generated from the animal shelter and parks department trust accounts be reviewed to see if the combined $31K can be used for general purposes. An additional $44K in leftover park construction funds is also under review.
A $35K balance from Trigon is also potentially available Judge said. “The money has been sitting in an account for a long time. It came to the county when Trigon formed a new mutual company because we were shareholders.”
Other budget improvement measures considered at last night’s meeting may prove more controversial or difficult to implement.
For example, Judge said that sheriff’s department deputies currently spend large amounts of time waiting in courtrooms on the day that a case is scheduled to be heard. Judge put forward the concept of using a lower-paid courtroom “spotter” who would notify a deputy by phone based on the case’s docket progress. In theory, this would allow higher-paid deputies to use their time in other areas and potentially reducing the daily manpower requirements of the sheriff’s department.
Judge also suggested that an emergency medical “fee-for-service” might be considered given that other nearby jurisdictions like Warren and Frederick Counties have implemented similar payment programs.
The committee also discussed elimination of cooking facilities at the new proposed Clarke County Senior Center, instead outsourcing meal service to a company like Sodexo, the Clarke County Public Schools meals provider.
An overall review of county service fees, based on a previous fee study that was not fully implemented, was also discussed.
Judge told the committee that one area that would not provide immediate cost savings, but that would reduce the county’s overall liabilities,is reduction of employee leave balances.
“We currently have about $1M compensated absence liability” Judge said. “If departments have the excess capacity, then directing people to take time off to reduce the liability would be a good thing to do at this time.”
Sale of county assets were also placed on the budget cutting table. County Administrator David Ash suggested that the county’s former library, a house on Main Street in Berryville that is now vacant, could be sold to generate revenue.
“This isn’t the right time to sell a property” Ash said referring to the depressed housing market. “But it is there and it is empty.”
Supervisors Hobert and Staelin agreed that the idea of selling the house, which includes five acres of property and carries commercial zoning, should be considered, however, concerns over retaining the right-of way through the property and its associated parking area were a potential stumbling block.
“We’re unlikely to use it in the future” Staelin agreed.
“It bothers me that it is not being productively used” added Supervisor Hobert. “If we are going to keep it we should try to at least rent it out so that it can be used to bring business back into the community.”
The committee directed Ash to explore the options for selling the property.
While no formal action was taken at last night’s meeting, the sub-committee directed Judge and Ash to develop a formal set of recommendation and alternatives that will be presented to the full Board of Supervisors for review.
Although the majority of last night’s discussion was dedicated to cost cutting, one new budget increase was placed on the table.
Supervisor Staelin took up the cause of a group of citizens who have been working privately to designate a new historic district in the county. According to Staelin, the new “Chapel Historic District” would place a large section of Clarke County under the new designation.
Staelin said that ten Clarke County citizens have already donated $6K of private money to get the new historic district planning started. According to Staelin, the county already has several such districts but the addition of the new Chapel Historic District would improve tourism and provide tax credits to property owners for certain types of construction.
“The initial study to review the idea was funded by citizens who were able to get a matching grant from the government” Staelin said. “The Virginia Department of Historic Resources would create the new district but it will take $10K from the county, $15K from a grant and citizens raising another $10K.”
“When citizens are putting up two-thirds of the money for something like this I think that we should consider putting some money behind the idea.”
The Board of Supervisors will meet for its next regular meeting on March 15th when it plans to set a public hearing on the budget for April 5th with final budget adoption planned for April 5th.