More cuts likely in Walworth County budget
If you go
What: Walworth County Board's Finance Committee meeting on the proposed 2010 budget
Where: Government Center, 100 W. Walworth St., Elkhorn.
When: 9:30 a.m. Thursday
ELKHORN The Walworth County Board's Finance Committee on Thursday takes up the county's upcoming budget, a mix of job cuts, shifted resources and decreased spending for county government.
This year's budget had County Administrator Dave Bretl handcuffed to fill a $1 million gap without surpassing the 2.9 percent levy cap requested by the county board.
The proposed budget calls for cutting about eight jobs. Some vacant positions won't be refilled and other responsibilities will be divided among current workers.
Department heads have shifted spending to continue to service residents at the same level without spending more in wages.
And most departments have been asked to tighten up belts on unnecessary spending.
"Honestly, there is nothing dramatic in the budget, but sometimes new programs roll out; obviously, that wasn't really in the cards this time around given the state of the economy," Bretl said.
Bretl said decreased sales tax collection and a slowdown in the rise of property value left officials with few options to balance the budget.
He originally intended to recommend cutting up to 10 full-time equivalent positions to reach the county's base budget.
Walworth County's FTE cut was 34.7 in 2006, 21.9 in 2007, 26.7 in 2008 and 16.5 in 2009. Since 2005, the county has dropped from 971.56 FTEs to this year's 871.62, a reduction of 99.9 FTEs.
Still, Labor and Employee Relations Director Suzi Hagstrom said personnel cuts are getting to a point where they can "definitely impact the services we provide."
"Ten is better than 20, absolutely," Hagstrom said. "The problem is that when we get lower and lower with our FTE count, we're getting to ... where there's no more room (to cut)."
The most challenging part about Walworth County's 2010 budget crunch is balancing cuts in expenditure and increased needs for service, Bretl said.
"More people need economic support, help with child support, and the jail population sometimes is tied to the economy," he added. "At a time when we want to try to lower taxes, the demand for services is as high as we ever see."
The county's current workforce consists of 779 full-time employees, 96 part-time employees and 269 casual workers. One FTE is the equivalent of a full-time employee working 40 hours per week, but it could be divided in two or more part-time positions.
The Walworth County Sheriff's Office is the largest item in the proposed budget because it's one of the expenditures the county has to afford on its own.
The administrator's proposal calls for an increase of 8.2 percent from $22.2 million in 2009 to $24.1 million this year.
"The budget that's been submitted and been reviewed fits our strategic planning going into 2010," Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said. "We recognize that there are budget pressures, but we also recognize operational pressures."
The sheriff's office remains constant on the number of FTEs for the second year straight at 214.9.
Additions to the sheriff's budget are mostly for information technology projects, which Picknell said are needed in order to stay on top of current technologies.
"The equipment and the budget supporting the operation support critical functions of public safety," Picknell said.
The additions are needed to process electronic evidence from seized computers and videos from surveillance cameras, he said.
"We can use video obtained from crime scenes, armed robberies, property and other crimes," Picknell said. "But we need the equipment to be able to process that video into usable images.
"It's technology we need to stay ahead of."
Children with Disabilities Education
At the Children With Disabilities Education Board, cutting expenses comes with shifted financial responsibilities.
Bretl's proposal calls for a cut of 3 percent from $8.8 million last year to $8.5 million in 2010.
One of the main reasons for the budget decrease was removing 14.4 FTEs from the county's payroll and transferring them to the local school district, said Tracy Moate, Lakeland School director of special education.
The shifted expense doesn't mean the county will be saving that money, Moate said. Instead, the 2010 budget calls for increased debt repayment to pay off the cost to build the new school.
The transfer in responsibility comes from a 4-year-old intergovernmental agreement between the county and the school district. The county picked up the tab for building a new school and the district was to slowly take on the role of paying for programming and staffing.
So the county might be saving some money, but school district residents will still be paying for it.
"You may see an decrease on the county level, but you're probably going to see an increase at the local level," she said.
The Walworth County Department of Public Works is nearing a tipping point, Director Shane Crawford said.
"We're maxed out," he said. "If I lose anymore positions, I'm going to be forced to contract more and more work out."
Fortunately for Crawford and his crew, the department goes without job cuts for this year.
One janitorial and two mechanic positions were eliminated from the department's 2010 budget, but the workers kept their county employment through in-house resource shifting. The former janitor took an internal promotion, and two mechanics moved to different positions needed in the streets division.
"I'm a little bit light in the (mechanic) shop, but we've been contracting some of that work out," Crawford said. "People may see a small diminishment in work, maybe instead of having streets plowed every 45 minutes, now it might be every 60 minutes.
"The small diminishment in services is a result of keeping that tax levy low."
Contracting work could be cheaper at times, Crawford said. But in-house workers tend to be more efficient and reliable in the long run. Response time for emergency road work is generally faster with in-house workers, and the quality tends to be higher, he added.
"Everyone is doing a heck of a lot more than they used to in the last couple years," he said. "But that's the price you're going to pay to keep jobs in this economy, and I'm real proud of everybody who's on staff."
The Walworth County Department of Public Works faces a proposed 4.2 budget percent decrease, from $3.4 million in 2009 to $3.2 million in 2010.