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County asks entities to trim back budgets

7/8/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

The frustration among Ellis County department leaders was evident Monday during a special budget meeting.

With Commissioner Swede Holmgren absent due to health reasons, Chairwoman Barbara Wasinger and Commissioner Dean Haselhorst pushed county staff to find cuts in their budgets. A $1.6 million shortfall was whittled down to approximately $900,000.

Reducing the timeframe of operations at the jail because of construction, changing the schedule for purchasing/removing capital and keeping subsidies to outside organizations at 2014 levels were among the proposed cost-saving measures.

The problems are attributed in part to financial changes enacted by the state, according to the meeting's agenda. Personal property tax revenue is expected to shift 7 percent to 8 percent.

Wasinger urged staff to find their own cuts.

"I don't have any great ideas other than just slashing things," Wasinger said. "I would much rather have you each do it to the best of your ability where you can shave off as much as possible, because I don't think you're going to like what we do."

The chairwoman said she is opposed to passing the burden to taxpayers.

"We just dipped into the taxpayers' pockets with the sales tax, and they have been very generous. I hear from everyone, 'Don't raise my taxes,' " she said. "I hear it at the grocery store, Home Depot, Walmart, everywhere. We're all trying to cut back and watch things."

Greg Sund, Ellis County administrator, said a 3-percent allowance in the budget for employee raises could be adjusted or eliminated.

Kerry McCue, Ellis County EMS director, said the departments' budgets are "bare-bones."

"Do you want us to continue the same level of services?" McCue asked. "We believe, I think all of us believe, that the current budgets that we're at are what we need to continue the current levels of services."

Wasinger said she does not believe the cuts will lead to reduced services because there are other places costs can be reduced.

"No one wants to reduce services to the county," she said.

The budget must be finalized by the end of the month, and the public will have the opportunity to share input in August.