County not budging on much as FY17 budget takes effect

Jul 2, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Fremont County's 2017 fiscal year budget deficit is even larger than estimated previously, according to the top budget official.

County Clerk Julie Freese now says the deficit will run to about $1.4 million -- $371,000 more than the roughly $1 million deficit that treasurer Scott Harnsberger had projected earlier.

When anticipating revenues, Freese said she has deferred to department heads for information about revenue expectations and now believes Harnsberger is overestimating the amount of revenue the county will bring in.

As county clerk, Freese is also the county's chief budget officer.

"What I use is up to me," she said. "(Harnsberger) stands behind his (data). I stand behind mine. I decided to go my own direction, because I think it's more accurate."

Final budget

The county gave final approval to its budget Tuesday, but not before backfilling the new deficit with an additional $185,550 from the Road Construction Fund and $184,550 from the Capital Revolving Fund -- a sort of internal bank.

"We are still deficit spending beyond our means," said Travis Becker, who chairs the county board. "I wish it was a rosier picture. Thank goodness that commissions before us had the foresight to put in money to deal with these economic times."

The new budget officially took effect on Saturday, the first day of the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2017.

Social services

The county made significant cuts to social services this year, and at a budget hearing Monday evening, several groups pleaded for funding to be reinstated.

The county typically has given $5,000 to the Fremont County Al-liance Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. After the commissioners planned to eliminate that subsidy, the group's executive director, Sydney Moller, said the loss of county funding could hurt the group's ability to get other grants.

"When I leave that line-item blank, it doesn't bode well for us," she said. "If your own county doesn't fund you, the perception is, 'What's wrong with your program?'"

Loss of other grant funding would be detrimental to her program, which she said has seen consistent increases in clients in recent years.

"I understand the budgets. I'm facing them on state, local and federal levels," she said. "Everybody's hurting right now, but it's hurting this population the most. I think we've proven our worth."

The commissioners ultimately decided to reinstate $2,500 for the group, but the county did hold firm on cutting $15,000 from its subsidy to the Center for Hope alcohol rehabilitation facility, a decision that program director Shelley Mbonu said could mean the elimination of a position.

"If the county continues with a 20 percent cut, (we) will have to reduce ... beds by at least one bed," she said.

Commissioner Larry Allen moved to reinstate $5,000 in funding Tuesday for the Center of Hope but couldn't get support from his fellow commissioners.

"I don't know if that will allow them to keep that ... bed open, but at least it's a chance, and they're well deserving of it," he said.

The county board also held firm in its decision to eliminate all funding for Injury Prevention Resources.

Noel Cooper, who heads that group, had argued for reinstatement of at least some money, saying the resource saves "the county money and hopefully changes some of these people's lives."

Cooper's group focuses on preventing roadway deaths and works to rehabilitate "hardcore drunk drivers."

"Jail without elements of treatment just doesn't work; it's just a revolving door," he said.

Cooper argued that the program actually saves the county money by diverting costs from the jail.

IPR also provides alcohol monitor by court request.

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