County closing $3 million gapPublished 4:15pm Thursday, July 19, 2012
ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County department heads will craft 2013 budget requests with “fiscal intensity” because “we’ve got a $3 million hill to climb in the general fund,” Administrator William Wolf said Thursday.
“We’ve had that kind of gap before,” Wolf advised the board of commissioners administration committee, “but I don’t have anything major in my hip pocket. I’m asking departments to continue to do what they’ve done for the last five or six years, which is to find ways to cut general fund expenditures.” Requests are due Aug. 10.
“I’m putting a lot of emphasis on special funds this year,” Wolf added. “We put over $8 million in appropriations from the general fund,” such as $1.5 million to the health department or $230,000 to parks.
“The goal I’ve set for departments in what I want to see them submit is to keep overall expenditures at 2012 levels, which doesn’t sound like much, but most contracts have escalators. Within that $3 million gap, $1.8 million is associated with salaries and benefits,” including some vacant positions departments could opt to chop.
Health insurance is expected to increase another 10 percent.
Wolf likened hewing to the bottom line of the previous year to a 4 percent reduction.
“That’s a serious challenge to meet with everything going up,” he said. “When requests are pulled together, I’ll have the first true 2013 revenue picture.”
“We aren’t a company that produces products for consumers, we provide services,” Chairman R. McKinley Elliott, of Buchanan, said. “We can’t raise the price of our finished goods.”
Wolf expects a $300,000 loss in personal property revenue.
“While that is not law yet, I told the staff cuts to personal property tax seem like a pretty sure deal in lame-duck session or next year. I’m convinced in my own mind we’ll see personal property whacked every year. It’s a structural thing that won’t hit us one time.”
The number of county employees has shrunk, from 744 in 2007 to 691 in 2011, mostly by attrition. Reducing the number of commissioners from 13 to 12 will save at least $21,000.
General fund expenditures for 2011 amounted to $50.09 million, down from $50.2 million in 2010. Fund balance increased from $14.8 million to $15.3 million, or 30 percent.