Washington County looks to balance $540,000 shortfall in budgetThe recent downturn in the real estate, banking and automotive sectors of the economy has found its way into the Washington County budget.
By: Hank Long, Woodbury Bulletin
The recent downturn in the real estate, banking and automotive sectors of the economy has found its way into the Washington County budget.
County administration officials told commissioners Dec. 2 they recently discovered a $540,000 shortfall in the county’s proposed 2009 budget, due to calculated adjustments of a number of sources of revenue that have decreased in recent months.
The drop in revenue sources include reduced interest earnings ($300,000), a decrease in revenue from county licensing centers ($200,000) and a reduction in mortgage and deed revenue and recorders fees ($40,000), said Molly O’Rourke, Washington County deputy administrator.
For that reason, O’Rourke and county administrator Jim Schug presented commissioners with a number of recommended adjustments to the budget that the county board will likely approve when it votes to adopt the 2009 budget and property tax levy Dec. 16.
Schug said the “greater-than-anticipated” loss in investment income and the reduction in car sales and real estate transaction in the county made it necessary to look for avenues to adjust those imbalances.
To make up for the shortfall, the proposed adjustments are planned to include elimination of scheduled plans for a fiber optic project with Dakota County that would cost $200,000.
The plans also call for a $108,500 reduction in staff hours at county licensing centers in Woodbury, Forest Lake and Stillwater, and a $100,000 reduction in the sheriff’s office fuel budget.
O’Rourke said the fuel budget reduction was made possible by the recent drop in gasoline and diesel prices.
The budget adjustments also includes elimination of a new full-time parks position, that would have accounted for $57,800.
The decrease in revenues at the county’s three licensing centers were not only related to a decrease in automobile sales, but also a decrease in the number of passports issued over the last year, O’Rourke said.
Commissioners expressed general support for the recommended adjustments, but some inquired whether further reduction in the budget could be made in time for the 2009 budget or future budgets.
Commissioner Lisa Weik asked O’Rourke if the county would look into decreasing the hours the licensing center are open.
O’Rourke said the county once scaled back the hours at the licensing centers, but received complaints from residents.
“People have become used to the notion that government services should be open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” O’Rourke said. “We’re clearly looking into all options, but we need to maintain a base level of employees in the license centers.”