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County treasurer says '14 deficit spending could reach $5.2M

Feb 16, 2012 - By Martin Reed Staff Writer

Budget projections provided by Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger showed government spending exceeding revenues by nearly $5.2 million for the 2014 budget year.

"In 2014, we're looking at a 22 percent reduction in assessed value, which could leave us with a $5 million deficit," Harnsberger told commissioners Feb. 7.

The current fiscal year ends June 30 and has a projected deficit of nearly $1.1 million, while the following 12-month spending period could reach $2.35 million, according to Harnsberger's estimates.

He based his projections using the latest information about potential factors affecting revenues including the decreasing price of natural gas that drives tax income for government coffers.

"We need to watch the price of gas as we're moving forward," Harnsberger said.

Commissioners heard the fiscal picture as they prepare to enter into the budget planning process for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Harnsberger noted that county government spending in specific sectors has mushroomed since 2008. He cited an 18 percent increase in general government spending, a 28 percent jump for public safety and a 64 percent hike in transportation.

For the current fiscal year, Harnsberger said the roughly $1 million deficit resulted from revenues of roughly $21.7 million compared to spending of about $22.8 million.

The county is maintaining about $8.5 million in its cash reserve account with about $7.5 million derived from sale of hospital properties as it enters the next budget period.

Harnsberger cautioned the commission to watch spending on high-dollar projects in the coming years.

"As we enter into the near future, we need to postpone or hold off any major capital improvements," he said.

Commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson expressed concern about the county's revenue stream from the federal government, which is known as payment in lieu of taxes.

"That's one of my biggest concerns in all this: What if we don't get PILT?" Hickerson said, calling the amount a "big old chunk of our budget."

The county government's audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30 showed PILT totaling more than $2.1 million for the 12-month period. The year before it was $1.85 million.

"I guess I have more fears than comforts in all of this," Hickerson said about the budget projections.

"I don't think we've been frivolous with our money," he said,

noting the commission has been trimming and holding spending over past years.

"We've got to look for places to save some money," he said. "We may have to reduce the services."

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese emphasized the need to halt spending more than the revenues received.

"We have to find some way to quit deficit spending," she said. "We're still deficit spending, and we keep spending more than we're bringing in and our fund balance goes down year after year after year after year."

She recommended a review of the county government's expenditures to see what needs to be changed.

Hickerson said the projections should not be taken lightly.

"Maybe this, looking at what 2014 looks like, should be a little alarming to everyone," he said.

Harnsberger said the projections are not set in stone.

"There is one thing I know, the numbers will change," he said.

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