During the second day of budget hearings Wednesday, the council finished with approximately $93,000 in tentative cuts not related to salaries and personal services. With the $223,380 in savings from continuing the salary freeze in the General Fund, the council will enter Thursday's final session of hearings with an estimated $60,000 left to remove from the General Fund to fall within its maximum tax levy for 2011, and still maintain a $500,000 operating balance.
"It is possible, with additional potential cuts, we could increase the amount of our operating balance to start 2011," Council President Mike McCullough said. "Over the years, office holders have become more conscientious about the county's financial situation and helped make decisions a little easier on the council."
During the hearings Wednesday, Clay County Auditor Mary Jo Alumbaugh informed the council that her first deputy, Nancy Coleman, would be leaving the office due to personal reasons. She added Erica Stallcop would be moved up to first deputy auditor and a deputy auditor position would not be filled meaning an additional $25,755 in salaries was freed up in the General Fund.
Another tentative reduction to come out of the General Fund was $2,400 out of the Veterans Office Fund as the costs for vehicle maintenance are not needed because they are being taken care of as part of the funding raised for the new Veterans Van.
While not part of the General Fund, an additional $2,100 in proposed cuts were made out of the Aviation Fund, which is partially funded from tax levy dollars.
However, the council had to make some tough decisions regarding the Clay County Highway Department and Clay City License Branch, both of which are self-funded entities.
The initial proposed budget for the highway department included a $500,000 operating balance, but with increasing costs and a static amount of funding from the state, approximately $450,000 would have needed to be cut to reach that goal.
Clay County Commissioner Paul Sinders recently met with Clay County Highway Superintendent Pete Foster and other department employees to "look at every line item to nickel and dime as much as they could out of the budget."
Sinders informed the council that after having to cut about $467,000 out of the current year's budget, it was decisively harder to find breathing room for 2011.
Reducing salary requests back to current levels made the biggest difference with a total cut of $79,941, followed by a $25,000 reduction from the road equipment line item, along with cuts in 19 other line items resulted in a total reduction of $187,915.20.
"The proposed cuts are ones we feel can be made and are reasonable, but anything beyond that could really hurt," Sinders, who has sat in on the entire budget hearings to this point, said. "It has made everything essentially bare bones, but $100 here and $100 there can really add up."
With the department understaffed by four people, the suggestion was made to reduce the health insurance line item by just more than $18,200, but it was decided to leave it alone due to the potential hazards associated with the nature of the job.
With the cuts and the reduction of potential additional appropriations in the budget from $50,000 to zero, the highway department would be left with an operating balance of about $300,000 to start the upcoming year.
Council members agreed something needs to be done in the near future to create additional cash flow for the department.
"Unless more funding can be created for the Highway Department, we will be looking at the same situation every year," McCullough said. "It is not the council's job to micromanage this department, but the entire council appreciates the hard work and effort they put in to do their jobs with limited funding."
Although the highway department will be able to keep its head afloat, the same cannot be said for the Clay City License Branch.
After re-opening in February 2006 the Clay City branch generated a profit in its first two years, but since 2008, it has experienced an increasing amount of loss.
After generating $39,224 in income during 2009, only $22,406 had been generated through Aug. 30, which is $7,406 less than the expenditures incurred since the beginning of the year.
Projected figures presented by Alumbaugh showed that, at the current trend, the branch could be more than $30,000 in the hole if it remained open through the end of 2011.
"With more options available to renew licenses and plates, such as online and through the mail, there are simply fewer people going to the actual branches themselves," council member Larry Moss said.
McCullough added that when the branch was re-opened, it came with the stipulation that it would need to be closed if it got to a point where it could no longer fund itself, which Alumbaugh said is the case.
"With the current projected figures, it may not be able to fully fund itself through the end of this year," she said.
Council members agreed the best path of action would be to post a notice that the branch would be closed as of Jan. 1, 2011.
At the current time, no official action had been made on any of the decisions during the first two days of budget hearings. After initial review of the Prosecutor's budget and those of related offices, the council will go back through each individual budget Thursday (today) to make final decisions on cuts.
The third, and final, day of county budget hearings will begin at 9 a.m., in the Commissioners' Courtroom at the Clay County Courthouse.