By MARINA WATERS
Last week, the Washington County Budget Committee was facing a $3.2 shortfall, but now, the committee is facing a surplus and funds have been added back to multiple county departments.
During the budget committee’s Wednesday, June 10, meeting held electronically, the budget committee opted to reinstate a 2% raise for all county employees at the suggestion of Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy.
“With the surplus number that has changed,” Grandy said, “I propose that we go ahead and reinstate the 2% salary increase for all county employees with benefits and the like. That’s a $300,000 change.”
Director of Accounts and Budgets Mitch Meredith said after expense reductions, a $1 million transfer from the county’s debt service fund followed by another $1 million from the capital projects fund to fill the deficit, the county had a $690,000 surplus. He said it is nearly an “expenditure neutral” general fund budget.
“The budget as it currently stands, we’re projecting a $690,000 surplus over and above our reserve policy at the end of FY (fiscal year) ‘21. That does entail a $2 million transfer from debt service and capital projects along with a $150,000 transfer out to the solid waste fund to essentially shore up its fund balance.”
One item added back to the budget was $45,550 for volunteer fire departments after the budget committee decided to reduce it by 5% at the June 5 committee meeting.
“One of the things I’ve heard a lot about that would be worth considering to put back is that reduction to the fire departments,” Grandy said. “That’s a little under $50,000. If you put all that together, you can still have some additional surplus. From my perspective, that’s what I’d like to recommend to this budget committee for consideration as we begin to move forward to a proposal to the full commission.”
Commissioner Jim Wheeler also asked that Grandy talk to county officials who made major cuts to their departments to fight the deficit.
“If they say they’re fine with cuts, that’s great,” Wheeler said, “but they made those with the understanding we were facing a big deficit and a possible tax increase. I think they ought to be able to take a second look at that.”
Though the county’s budget woes seem to be sewn up for the upcoming fiscal year, Commissioner Freddie Malone mentioned the county is still facing a “structural problem”, which the commission discussed during its commission workshop on June 2. Meredith agreed the lack of revenue against expanding expenditures is an issue.
“Considering we’re using $2 million of savings if you will to balance it, that’s correct,” Meredith said referring to Malone’s question about the budget having a structural problem. “If you take the $2 million out of the $42 million dollars of revenue, you have $40 million of revenue and $42.5 million of expense. That’s a structural problem.”
The budget hearing for the county will be held on Friday, June 19, at 9 a.m. That meeting will be livestreamed and can be found at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4MZUAgq8j-SvzZb_2xucpA.