Now that the “easy part” of adopting the 2015-16 budget is complete, County manager Ed Causey said work will begin in July toward examining county operations with the aim of slashing nearly $350,000 for 2016-17 and beyond.
The county budget was approved by the Board of Commissioners at a special meeting last week. The plan includes no tax increase from the current 83 cents per $100 valuation and, at nearly $55.1 million for all general county operations, is an increase over the roughly $52.6 million budget adopted for 2014-15.
With the budget adoption behind him, Causey said he and the rest of the county’s administrative staff will be meeting with department heads shortly. Those first meetings will be in July, he noted.
While Causey has attested budget planning is a year-round endeavor, the need for foresight is compounded in the coming years by the implementation of an already-approved pay plan — a plan that is dependent on cuts due to its $3.7 million price tag.
“We’re going to meet with department heads in July and get information back in September, so we can begin to vet what we’re going to do,” Causey explained to commissioners. “During that process, it should get a little easier. Once we get started and get through year 1, we’re not going to stop and wait for year 2. We will work the whole process and could actually come to you with year one reductions that propose reductions for year 2 and year 3.”
The pay plan, to be implemented over four years, includes roughly $1.1 million and matching fringes for the 2015-16 budget, while calling for an additional $1,193,391 in real permanent savings over the next four years, necessitating a reduction of $345,497 starting in the 2016-17 budget.
The county manager has reiterated many times to board members that he is responsible for showing real cuts to the budget in order to implement the pay plan, a long-discussed measure that commissioners can choose to halt at any time if they so choose, the county manager has conceded.
“In order to do that, I would prefer to present you something in November,” he told board members following the budget adoption. “I’m going to give myself the additional 30 days knowing that I need to hit the floor with it in December. Because if you choose not to go along with what we’re proposing, then I need time to go back to the drawing board.”
Despite what county officials can chalk up as a victory — budget deliberations have gone well into July as board dissension has forced the county into operating under an interim budget the past three years — Causey gave indications that it was a short-lived one as he was already looking ahead Thursday.
“As far as I’m concerned, the budget approval today is the easy part,” the county manager said Thursday. “Moving forward we have a monumental task we want take on on behalf of the board and the citizens of the county starting in July. I’m looking forward to the process just to see what we can be accomplished.”
The county is expected to receive a boost, thanks to high sales and property tax projections, as well as some incoming industrial prospects. But county officials are not resting on their laurels.
“We’re going to be looking at a wide range of things,” he explained Thursday. “I think what we’re going to have is a substantive process over the next couple years, looking not just at cost reductions but improving efficiencies and better ways of doing business. Sending people home is our last option but at the end of the day we’re not going to discount anything.”
That effort already includes a list of more than a dozen times to be reviewed, all ideas from board members and others, not Causey. He said commissioners can add to that list at any time.
“You don’t necessarily have to be identified as the author unless you want to. We will just include it,” he told them. “The good part of this is we can go in and have a discussion on anything. No one (department) needs to feel like they’re going to be singled out because I will expect over the next three years we will have a lot of discussions.”
Among those items, staff are expected to delve further into a potential consolidating of resources through which some employees can be trained in other departments, notably the Board of Elections, so there can be limited additional manpower needed during elections. Financing arrangements with some non-profits is also on the agenda.
“Just because we’re discussing and reviewing it does not mean it is going to be brought forward,” Causey said. “Some of the things we are going to look at are going to take an in-depth look — not two or three days or weeks, but awhile to put together.”