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Budgets and more budgets

Jun 17, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

They know how much money everyone is asking from them, and they know how much revenue they can expect, and now Fremont County Commissioners must decide how to make those figures fit together.

Major unanswered questions are how raises and new revenue streams could reshape the budget.

One significant figure is $1,262,093. That number is how much more money has requested than the county expects to have in fiscal year 2014 according to document from the County Clerk's Office.

$38.5 million

The total requested of the county commission is a little more than $38.5 million. The proposals for money from the general fund, which come from elected officials, departments and outside groups, account for about $33 million.

The county's fair, museum, library and recreation boards asked for a total of around $5.5 million to make up the difference.

On the other side of the equation are the fund balances, property taxes and other revenues. Between the general fund and the various board's accounts, the county has a fund balance of almost $12.3 million.

The other revenues add about $14.2 million to that, bringing the total available money before property taxes to around $26.5 million.

Higher mill?

The county board can look to property taxes, cutting budgets and dipping into cash reserves to make up the more than $12.1 million dollar difference between the money requested and the funds it has.

Every year, the commission can levy up to 12 mills in property taxes. Each mill means .001 multiplied by the assessed value of real property.

For the upcoming year, County Assessor Tara Berg's preliminary assessed value for Fremont County is $906 million.

The State Board of Equalization still must ratify that figure or make changes, but it is the number the commission will work with for budgeting purposes.

A full 12 mills on $906 million would generate a little less than $10.9 million. Subtracting that from the more than $12.1 means the county board will have to decide how to make up the about $1.3 million noted earlier.

Raises

Salary increases were a point of discussion in many budget requests. Most departments included raises in their proposals for the upcoming year, but most elected officials did not.

If the commission sets an across-the-board wage adjustment policy lower than what most department heads asked for, it would decrease what their budget requests. Any such raises, however, would add to most elected officials' proposals, driving up the $38 million asked for.

The Fremont County Treasurer, Assessor, Clerk of District Court, commissioners, Sheriff and Clerk decided to wait to talk about salary increases for their staffs until the county board's overall budget discussion. Several, however, indicated they would like raises for their employees.

With the pressure to raise wages and the need to close the $1.3 million hole, salaries are sure to be a major theme as the commission moves to a final budget.

According to a document from Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese, county employees last received a wage increase in 2008 of 4 percent overall. The next year saw a $62 monthly individual raise to offset health benefit plan cost increases, in 2010 employees saw no increase, 2011 saw a $200 per month health insurance cost offset and last year staff saw no salary increases.

At the June 4 commission meeting, Doug Thompson said in some of the years Freese noted no salary increase, the county may have increased its contributions to the employee health benefit plan.

More issues

A few departments asked for additional personnel as well, and those costs are a part of the total $38.5 requested. The county board will likely consider granting or denying those new positions when it figures out how to put its budget together.

Health insurance costs went up for the county this year by 15 percent, adding $417,000 to the total requested. Employees now pay 15 percent of their health benefit plan, but that could change.

The commission could increase the portion staff contributes to lower that $417,000 obligation and shrink the difference they have to make up.

An additional new cost is an $833,000 request from the ambulance department, but it was not yet included in the $38.5 million total. The agency asked funds from the general fund for the first time this year.

New income

Several new streams of revenue will flow into county coffers in the upcoming fiscal year, but most have strings attached.

The largest new source of income is the optional 1 percent sales taxed, which voters approved in November. Expected to bring in about $4.2 million for the county, the money must all be spent on infrastructure projects and goes into a special revenue fund apart from the general fund.

The state Legislature in February approved an increased fuels tax, which the County Treasurer's Office predicted would generate $780,000 more in income to the county. The fuels tax dollars are also earmarked to be split between the road construction fund and the general fund.

Some commissioners at the June 4 meeting proposed limiting use of the general fund to pay for infrastructure projects.

In the past, general fund money has gone toward such construction. For instance, in this year's budget request, the transportation department asked for $87,000 from the general fund to go to the road construction fund.

"I'm interested in an approach to maximize use of these designated funds prior to dipping into general fund," Commissioner Stephanie Kessler said.

Doing so could lessen pressure on the general fund.

The county board will finish work on a proposed budget June 24 and 25, and a public hearing on it will be held on July 8.

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Fremont County Commissioners