By JONATHAN ZWEYGARDT
With the end-of-the-month deadline looming to balance the 2015 budget the Ellis County Commission met with department heads again Monday afternoon in an effort to cut into the approximately $1.5 million shortfall.
Despite an increase in tax valuation in the county from 2013 to 2014 the county is anticipating a reduction in revenues because of changes in personal property taxes, the way wireline equipment is listed and a reduction in oil and gas tax.
At Monday’s special meeting, the commission tasked department heads with finding places to cut, and they targeted about $500,000 to $600,000 in possible cuts — leaving an estimated shortfall of approximately $1 million.
“I know and I appreciate that all of you have tried to be really mindful of where you are spending money and what’s going on. But it’s just not there,” Chairwoman Barb Wasinger said.
EMS Director Kerry McCue said he believes most departments are almost the same as last year and without current funding levels, services might have to be reduced.
Wasinger said some departments might not be able to provide the same level of services they do now because of budget cuts.
“That’s the decision the taxpayers need to know is being made here, either pay more taxes or we cut back and some services may have to be cut back a little bit,” she said.
But, Wasinger added, “I hear from everyone, don’t raise our taxes. We’re all trying to cut back.”
When crafting their budget proposals, department heads were told to budget for a 3-percent pay increase for employees.
The commission and the department heads talked about possibly cutting those raises.
County Attorney Tom Drees noted that, if everyone has cut everything they can, that only leaves personnel. Drees said 95 percent of his budget is salaries.
“For most of us … the cost of our increase is the raise,” he said.
Public Works Director Mike Graf brought up the fact that Ellis County does not have a general county-wide sales tax and, while that won’t help the current situation, it could be something to consider in the future.
“That may be something we have to start educating the public if they want to try continue services,” Wasinger said. “We may have to sell that.”