The Douglas County Board has a long way to go if it hopes to trim at least $5.8 million in expenses to avoid a significant property tax increase this summer.
The board’s finance committee met for four hours Tuesday to hear from several officials who are asking to increase their 2012-13 operating budgets. The county had asked all officials to keep their spending flat, and many have done that.
The board plans to review several proposed spending cuts June 5. A public hearing is tentatively planned for June 19. The budget may be adopted June 26.
“Today’s discussion was a very good step,” board member P.J. Morgan said.
Officials mentioned about $2.6 million in possible cuts. Among them:
» Reduce the Juvenile Court budget for out-of-home placements from $1.2 million to $600,000.
» Trim the register of deeds budget by $140,000. The number of real estate deeds processed has fallen sharply during the economic slowdown, said County Finance Director Joe Lorenz.
» Trim the Juvenile Assessment Center budget by up to $200,000, the Health Center budget by $200,000 and the Health Department budget by $125,000.
Board member Mike Boyle said the county could save nearly $200,000 by eliminating three staff positions in corrections, purchasing and general assistance. He deemed the three positions redundant and unnecessary.
Boyle also suggested funding the sheriff’s crime lab budget, about $700,000, entirely through the sheriff’s federal drug forfeiture fund, which is currently at $2.8 million, rather than with property taxes.
He said the county could save $450,000 more if it closed the Douglas/Sarpy County Extension Office.
“The extension office simply needs to be abolished,” Boyle said. “It was good in its day.”
County officials also have said they may look at cutting the budgets of the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging and the Eastern Nebraska Community Office of Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. Those agencies receive a combined $1.6 million from the county.
A half-dozen county officials urged the board Tuesday to let them increase their current operating budgets, rather than keep spending flat.
Corrections Director Mark Foxall said his latest revised budget of about $33 million calls for about $200,000 in additional spending.
Foxall said he plans to reduce five full-time positions in the 2012-13 budget, dropping total staff to 399 positions.
He said his costs are tied to $594,896 in guaranteed salary increases for corrections union employees. Additionally, the jail’s contractual costs for food services, health and mental health services are all increasing between 3 percent and 3.5 percent.
Foxall indicated that the only way to come up with a flat budget is to cut more positions at the jail. “Obviously, the last three or four years, we have had to get really, really lean,” he said.
Sheriff Tim Dunning told the board he is willing to delay plans to fill four vacant positions in road patrol units but said it has been nearly four years since he has hired new deputies.
Three deputies are pregnant and on medical leave, he said, and five other deputies are recovering from on-duty injuries.
Board member Clare Duda said he would prefer to come up with the money necessary to fill the vacant road patrol positions.
“It bothers me to say we will put it off for another year,” Duda said. “For me and my neighbors and my constituents, this is distressing. We cannot procrastinate.”
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