The Clay County Council received some good news at the start of county budget hearings Tuesday.
Prior to the council meeting with office holders regarding their respective budgets, Mary Jo Alumbaugh announced new estimates in the Property Tax Replacement portion of County Adjusted Gross Income Tax (CAGIT) came in higher than anticipated, which lessens the amount of cuts the council will have to make out of the General Fund.
"We were ultraconservative in projecting CAGIT and miscellaneous revenue for the 2011 budget," Alumbaugh said.
With the increased expected CAGIT funding, the amount needing to be cut in order to start 2011 with a $500,000 operating balance is reduced to $352,077.
Council members agreed the wise choice for not just 2011, but beyond, was to institute another salary freeze, which would put the council nearly two-thirds of the way to its goal.
"Even if we had the money for pay raises, now may not be the right time to have them," Council President Mike McCullough said. "It would be a good idea to dig in and put ourselves in survival mode because the state keeps cutting funding, and we keep hearing it's going to get worse before it gets better."
According to figures Alumbaugh provided to the council, a salary freeze will reduce the requested budgets by $223,380, leaving just less than $130,000 needing to be cut from the General Fund.
Another aspect the council is considering, and notifying office holders during their respective budget reviews, is possibly having a hiring freeze and requiring a council review on the replacement of county employees should one leave.
"There's going to be positions that would obviously need to be refilled if they open up," council member Larry Moss said.
However, many elected officials anticipated the salary freeze and council members recognized that there is not too much turnover when it comes to county employees.
"We have a lot of long-term employees and there is not a lot of turnover," council member Brian Wyndham said.
Alumbaugh added, "If you talk to the employees, you'll see that the vast majority of them appreciate having their jobs and enjoy working for the county."
Once the council began reviewing the individual budgets, they focused more on a basic review with more in-depth discussions to come Wednesday (today) and Thursday.
The elected officials actually played more of a role in making non-personal services cuts Tuesday than the council had the opportunity to, including:
* Clay County Recorder Joe Dierdorf informed the council of $4,500 in total cuts from his budget for microfilm rods and office supplies because they will be paid out of the perpetuation fund, lessening the burden on the General Fund,
* Clay County Assessor Mark Barnhart was able to reduce $7,500 out of the Reassessment Fund as there is not the need for Professional Assessment Consulting, and
* Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton said the $23,310 slated for holiday pay in the Sheriff's Fund -- which is part of the General Fund -- can be moved to the Public Safety Local Option Income Tax (LOIT) budget.
However, there will be some tough decisions to come before the council in the next couple days.
With the number of landline phones in use, along with a low fee for cell phone usage, the E-911 funds are struggling to fund themselves.
Alumbaugh said the fee on landline phones is at its maximum of $2.67 per phone, while the cell phone fee -- which goes into the E-911 PSAP Fund -- is only 50 cents per phone.
In addition, the council will have to re-review the Public Defender Fund to determine the best amount to approve in order for the fund to continue operating with a balance.
Council members also plan to review the Sheriff's, Jail and Public Safety LOIT funds to determine which requests could be granted, including the possibility for four new cars and two new SUV's for the Clay County Sheriff's Department, which would be paid for through the Public Safety LOIT fund.
Budget hearings will continue at 9 a.m., Wednesday (today), in the Commissioners' Courtroom at the Clay County Courthouse.