Adams County tightening its belt

Published 3:15 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The county government is asking its departments to tighten their belts by cutting back spending as much as possible.

It’s not that the county is overspending, County Administrator Cathy Walker said Tuesday. In fact, it has spent a little below what it would expect to be spending this time of year.

“The problem is revenues aren’t coming in that we had depended on,” Walker said.

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That means departments are being asked to hold off buying non-essential items, Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said. Refurbishing and repairing as opposed to buying new items is encouraged. Non-essential overtime will be discouraged.

But all departments might not be able to cut back, he said. The two biggest spenders, the sheriff’s office and the road department, have very little they can trim without sacrificing services, Grennell said.

So, smaller departments are encouraged to turn out lights not being used and wait to purchase new equipment.

“Even though it might be small costs, it all adds up,” Grennell said.

When the county budgeted, it used current numbers to estimate this year’s income. But because revenues like oil and gas taxes and gaming taxes are down from last year, finances are getting a little tight.

Since the county is roughly 40 percent through its fiscal year, it should have roughly 40 percent of its income and have spent 40 percent of what was budgeted, she said.

Oil severance taxes, gas severance taxes and motor vehicle taxes, all of which are distributed by the state, are all below what they were expected to be, Walker said. In fact, the county has collected 8 percent of what was expected, rather than 40 percent.

Gaming taxes are down, too, at 30 percent of what was expected.

This, along with waiting for property taxes, makes December, January and February especially lean for the county, Walker said.

“It’s not that we’re in such a huge crunch,” Walker said. “We just want to head that off. Revenue may pick up, but we want to make sure we don’t run into problems.”

The lower revenues may be a combination of factors, Walker said. The gaming funds washed upstream by Hurricane Katrina are slowly returning to the coasts as casinos open again.

And the absent taxes from International Paper are beginning to show, she said.

“We’ve gone several years without taxes from IP,” Walker said. “We had a cash balance built up (to carry into the next year), and we were able to rely on that for a while. But it’s gradually making itself felt.”

Walker is also looking into the future. County elections, which can be costly — the previous two elections cost $14,000 just in poll worker pay — are coming up in November.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Walker and Grennell said with industries looking at Adams County, they hoped things would pick up next year.

“I think it will get better,” Walker said. “The board has been working hard to get more industry in here. If we get more businesses and people in, our tax receipts are going to go up.”