Boone County government might have to dip into reserves to get through 2004, according to a preliminary budget prepared by County Auditor June Pitchford.
Pitchford presented her proposed budget for 2004 to the Boone County Commission on Tuesday. Despite what she called conservative budgeting, she projected general fund spending of $22.4 million and revenue of $20.3 million, leaving a gap of $2.1 million.
Pitchford said her budget takes into consideration an unexpected reduction in state revenue and increased operating costs at the Joint Communications and Information Center, the Boone County Jail and the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health, which will move into a new building next spring.
Her budget priorities include $250,000 for final implementation of a salary plan that will result in raises for many county employees and $250,000 for a “merit pool” that would funnel more money to deserving county workers. She also proposes increased spending of $170,000 for employee health insurance, $650,000 in election-related costs and $150,000 for computer upgrades and equipment.
The proposed 2004 budget follows the same pattern as the budget for 2003 by projecting the county will spend more than it takes in. This year, the county budgeted $20.9 million in spending and $19.5 million in revenue. By the end of this year, Pitchford projects the county will actually end up $174,515 in the black. While the 2004 budget, as drafted, calls for the county to draw $2.1 million from its general fund reserve, Pitchford notes that $650,000 of that amount falls under emergency appropriations mandated by law. That, she says, means “the actual spend-down of reserves will be far less,” or somewhere between $100,000 and $1.1 million. Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin said he is pleased with the budget, which would leave the county with a general fund balance of $4.1 million at the end of next year.
Cuts or Reserves?
“Our reserves are very healthy,” Elkin said. “I am comfortable with using our savings as necessary. The money doesn’t do any good sitting in the bank.”
Pitchford said county commissioners will have to decide whether to add to the budget any of the supplemental requests submitted by various department heads.
“I am making very few recommendations to the commission regarding the many other general fund supplemental requests that were submitted to me,” she said in her report. “This is not to say that additional spending should not be authorized; rather, it is simply that I believe the county commission is the appropriate body to determine the extent to which county reserves should be further reduced and for what purposes such reductions should occur.”
Presiding Commissioner Keith Schnarre called Pitchford’s plan “a tight budget.”
“There is no way we can do all the supplementals. We stay with the primary focus,” Schnarre said, adding, “I’m not too strong into dipping any further into reserves than June has shown us. I would rather make cuts in other areas.”