Budget deficit reveals divide

By Emily Bialkowski

Caledonia Argus

 

If agreeing to disagree is the most civil way to combat a somewhat heated exchange, then members of the Houston County Board made good practice of it Nov. 5 when they briefly touched on a  projected $73,000 deficit in 2014.

The board will need to set the final tax levy in December, and department heads have already presented their preliminary budgets. Early numbers indicate that if the county taxes at the state’s maximum increase, 3.52 percent, a $73,000 gap in funding exists.

As the board considered the best way to address the deficiency, a clear divide appeared between some board members.

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said he wants an across-the-board 4 percent reduction from all departments, but Commissioners Teresa Walter and Judy Storlie disagreed.

“I don’t know of one other business entity that hand picks departments. They go across the board – everybody has to sacrifice something,” Zmyewski said.

“I don’t like across-the-board,” Walter said, adding that it hurts small departments greater than larger entities. For example, she said, the Veterans Service Office has always presented a conservative budget and only has 1 1/2 employees. This year the department needs a new van, so a reduction of any kind would “really hurt.”

“Really our budgets went up because of salaries and insurance costs, so these little departments with just two employees, what are they going to cut?” Walter said.

Zmyewski countered by saying 4 percent hurts everyone equally and that he sees no need to go over each department’s line items.

The exchange continued with Walter mentioning expenses out of the county’s control, such as inmate medical costs and mandatory services.

“You can guys can decide who you want to come in with their budgets, but I disagree with the whole process,” Zmyewski said.

Discussion ended with the board asking County Finance Director Carol Lapham to present a list of departments that have already introduced cuts in the 2014 budget.

Although $73,000 is a lot of money by most standards, the Caledonia School District was facing a $350,000 deficit in February of this year.

 

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