MOUNT VERNON — Major cuts from most Knox County governmental entities will enable the county’s general fund to remain solvent for the remainder of 2009. Jan. 1, 2010, however, may bring an unhappy new year.
That was the message the board of commissioners had for the elected officials of the county who attended the month-end budget review Monday morning.
After “de-appropriating” a total of $1,437,456.14 from current budgets to keep the general fund balanced, officials had numerous questions about current and future budgets.
“Did every budget get cut 9 percent?” asked Prosecutor John C. Thatcher.
The commissioners said no, explaining that the Veterans Service Office and Board of Elections declined to return any funds and are protected by legal rulings which prohibit forcing them to participate in cuts. Commissioner Allen Stockberger said that, additionally, Municipal Court and the Public Defender’s Office were not held to the full 9 percent cut because of their structures, which didn’t allow for the flexibility to cut the full amount.
Even without hitting the 9 percent level, public defense attorney Bruce Malek has had to give staff furlough days. The sheriff’s office and county jail operation were also not assessed the full cut, as they are already finding it necessary to use furlough days for patrolmen and staff to meet a 5 1/2 percent reduction.
Stockberger said that to make up the remaining shortfall, the commissioners hit the county’s buildings and maintenance line item for over double the 9 percent, which would have been $160,000. Instead, they pulled nearly $379,000 from this line item to get the general fund back to the point where there will be some carryover left at the end of the year to operate the county until the 2010 budget is worked out. Auditor Jonette Curry estimated the carryover would amount to about $433,000, compared to a carryover of $1.3 million from 2008.
This means further cuts in January, Stockberger said.
“Further than what we’ve already done?” Thatcher asked.
Stockberger replied in the affirmative. Thatcher asked for as much advance notice as possible about how large cuts are likely to be, because many employees’ lives would be impacted by potential further cuts.
Clerk of Courts Mary Jo Hawkins asked if the cuts would lead to salary reductions for employees. Stockberger said it was too early to tell where the budget figures would fall, although it is a given that there will be no money for raises next year. County Recorder John Lybarger encouraged everyone present to get the word out to all departments and to the public that more cuts were coming with the new year.
Treasurer Sandra Mizer said in particular that the Veterans Services Board and the Board of Elections need to know what the county is up against, since they can only be asked to voluntarily reduce their budgets.
Lybarger asked for a specific definition of what a furlough day is, to which Stockberger responded that it is an unpaid day off which cannot be taken as vacation time, but which, unlike a layoff, keeps the employee’s benefits active. Thatcher cautioned that before any non-collective bargaining employees are furloughed, officials should contact him for the latest information about the laws that pertain to employee furloughs.
Several asked for projections about 2010 cuts, although Stockberger and Commissioner Teresa Bemiller both said it would be premature to make projections. Bemiller said one confirmed figure is that county sales tax revenue is currently $153,648.16 below projections. Commissioner Robert Wise said it was likely to be at least another 10 percent beyond the current level.
“What’s weighing on the minds of people who work in this building is, in 2010, are we going to be open five days a week or four days a week; are we going to work 35, 32 or 28 hours?” Thatcher said.
Other officials expressed concern about scheduling problems, but Stockberger said it was not proper for them to look to the board of commissioners to solve those problems, as the commissioners were not authorized to dictate how cuts would be incorporated in each department.
The commissioners said they would make calculations for next month’s meeting, which will take place on Aug. 31 at 3 p.m., to give an idea how the county budget picture is shaping up.