Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Commissioners hint at upcoming budget cuts

It's budget time for the county. Over the next couple of weeks, the county commissioners will be holding a number of meetings to discuss and finalize the 2009 budget.

So NewsLanc asked on Wednesday what their priorities are and what citizens should expect to see in the upcoming budget.

While being nonspecific, all three of the commissioners strongly hinted that significant spending cuts are in the works.

Citing a "tough economy" and "a [state] trend toward pushing costs down on to counties," Commissioner Scott Martin said, "There's going to be a lot of belt tightening. There has to be."

Craig Lehman, the lone Democratic County Commissioner, said, "I firmly believe that in tough economic times, government needs to set the example and show restraint. But they need to show restraint in a fiscally responsible way." He went on to suggest that now is not the time to raise taxes and that multi-year planning is necessary for the county to save money.

That point found disagreement with Martin, who called multi-year planning "pie-in-the-sky thinking" since so much of the county's budget is contingent on the annual state budget.

"I'll be much more forthright, blunt and, brutal," Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey began. "We've given [County Administrator] Charlie [Douts] one word to say - and that word is no."

For his part, Douts noted that he is working with departments to improve efficiency by cutting costs where possible, and to "implement a budget that reflects the views of the commissioners."

In which specific areas the economic times will be felt, and the county's promised fiscal conservatism will manifest itself, remains to be seen in the coming weeks.

The commissioners have scheduled meetings to discuss the proposed 2009 budget on Wed, Nov. 5 at 2:00 p.m., Friday, Nov. 7 at 9:30 a.m., and Wednesday, November 12 at 3:00 p.m.

These will ultimately be followed by the traditional evening presentation of the finalized budget to the public towards the end of the year.