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Legislators Begin to Weigh in on 2011 Budget Amendments

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Legislators Begin to Weigh in on 2011 Budget Amendments

Monday, October 18, 2010
Nearly six weeks into the 2011 budget process, Legislators acting as an Expanded Budget Committee took the first steps toward recommended changes to the County's 2011 tentative budget. The package totals $74.4 million in locally controlled spending (an increase of 0.6% over 2010 despite substantial increases in mandated spending) and meets the Legislature's goal of a tax levy increase of no more than 5%. Tonight's session followed eight presentation meetings and was the first in as many as five more committee meetings which may be necessary to consider modifications to the proposed budget. Fourteen legislators were present for tonight's meeting.

Much of tonight's discussion focused on the County's rollover policy, by which the Legislature permits county departments to rededicate a portion of department money, achieved through operational savings, for future department use. Following a report on rollover from County Administrator Joe Mareane, Legislator Mike Lane recommended that more than $800,000 in available departmental rollover funds be removed from the budget--'half of it moved to the Contingent Fund and the remainder applied to provide tax relief. Lane urged that the action be taken to help hold taxes down in a very difficult year, with the contingency funding available to fill potential gaps left by the removal of rollover. But other legislators called the approach inappropriate and unwise. Legislature Chair Martha Robertson said the move would not reduce County spending, but instead eliminate savings achieved by careful planning. The motion was tabled by a 13-1 vote, with at least two Legislators indicating they might be open to discussing the proposal later in the review process.

Also regarding rollover, though not directly related to the 2011 budget process, the committee recommended by a 12-2 vote to extend through the end of this year a temporary provision, enacted by the Legislature for 2009, which excludes from the rollover calculation any savings achieved by holding a position vacant and redirects the revenue to the fund balance. The Legislature will act on that recommendation at its meeting tomorrow, October 19.

Legislators also considered how the committee should approach the budget amendment process. Several suggested that recommended additions to the tentative budget should be accompanied by recommended cuts to offset them, as has often been done in the past. Only recommended additions to the budget have been submitted for consideration to date. Legislator Peter Stein was one who expressed concern that the process could end up with a considerably larger tax levy increase than the 5% target approved several months ago.

Two changes to the budget were recommended tonight, decisions that may be reconsidered at later committee meetings and require approval by the full Legislature to become final.

Legislators acted on the first of several motions submitted so far seeking restoration of funding to preserve Child Protective Services delivered through not for profit agencies. Legislator Carol Chock advanced a motion, which several other legislators noted they had also planned to recommend, to add $16,576 to support the Advocacy Center services to children and youth who are victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, the change recommended by an 8-6 vote. The expenditure draws down nearly $54,000 in state reimbursement. Legislator Pat Pryor, one of those who dissented, stated she may be willing to support the restoration at some point, but could not now since no corresponding cut has been recommended. Legislator Brian Robison said he voted against at this early stage, with the understanding it could still be brought up later on.

Legislators by a vote of 11-3 approved $587 in over target spending for a paralegal aide in the Division, a position whose hours have been reduced in the tentative budget. The added funds permit the position to achieve half time status and receive health benefits.

Potential Tax Impact of Recommendations to Date

With its first two actions, the committee added $17,163 in target spending to the County Administrator's proposed budget. If tonight's committee recommendations were approved, the county's total 2011 tax levy would increase by 5.05%, and the average county tax rate would still hold at $6.41 per thousand dollars assessed property value, an increase of 0.05%.

The committee resumes deliberations Thursday, October 21.