Wednesday, November 19, 2008

County presents draft 2009 budget

The County Commissioners laid the draft 2009 county budget on the table for public review at their weekly meeting, Wednesday.

Despite increasing costs, decreasing revenues, and heavy debt service obligations, the county has managed to craft a budget that does not increase any county taxes.

They have done this with across-the-board spending cuts. Each department cut at least 3% out of its budget, and measures were also implemented to control personnel costs, such as a freeze on new hires, no automatic pay raises, and no parking reimbursement for employees hired after January 1, 2009.

County Administrator Charles Douts called it a budget that "reflects the directives [and the philosophy] of the Commissioners" insofar as it contains no tax increases and attempts to limit the growth of government.

"Lancaster has been able to deal with the global economic crisis better than some other places," he optimistically noted.

Commissioner Craig Lehman stressed that municipalities make a mistake when they raise taxes in difficult economic times and said that the budget is the best the County could do under the circumstances without engaging in much more dramatic measures, like layoffs.

He went on to say that the 2009 budget is only the first step in the multi-year fiscal planning he insists the county needs.

Much has been said about the county's need for additional prison space and a county morgue and forensic center, and Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey has been quoted as saying that both projects "must move forward," but the Commissioners offered no concrete time frame for either.

Martin explained that with regard to the prison, the board is conducting a study and investigating alternatives to building a new prison, including partnering with other counties to consider a female-only facility.

On the morgue issue, Stuckey and Martin said that they are involved in talks regarding a certain piece of property, but would not identify where it is, saying it would be inappropriate to reveal that while real estate talks are in progress.

The county budget includes funding for studying and planning for both facilities, but the cost of either has not yet been specifically budgeted for.

The budget will be available for public inspection on the county's website at A summary of each department's budget will also be posted within a week, Douts said.

A public presentation of the budget will occur in the courthouse on December 2 before final adoption of the budget at the Commissioners' December 17 meeting.