When it comes to the 2017 budget, Ellis County commissioners agree one thing is clear: They must find a way to reduce spending.

The county is facing a shortfall of approximately $3.7 million in order to maintain spending at the 2016 levels, County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes said at Monday’s meeting. The shortfall is partly due to decreased oil and agriculture valuation.

“There will need to be tough choices made,” he said.

Besides cutting staff positions and county services, potential solutions could include new regional partnerships and restructuring of current administrative duties, Smith-Hanes said.

While the county has approximately the same amount, $3.6 million, accrued in savings, it would be unwise to use all emergency funds at one time, said Commissioner Barbara Wasinger.

“We’re going to have to find ways to cut — pure and simple,” she said. “It does not make good fiscal sense to use every dime in savings you have when we don’t even know what the following year will bring.”

Wasinger suggested one way to save money would be to implement a hiring freeze on vacated county positions.

Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst said department heads should review their budgets and identify any areas that can be cut. He also noted the public likely would not be receptive to a property-tax increase, with so many people affected by oilfield layoffs.

“Nobody likes to make layoffs and cuts, and we’re not saying that’s the option we’re going to do. But we all need to look at our budgets very diligently,” Haselhorst said.

“We have people who are drawing unemployment every day just to try to pay bills until the oil comes back. … We are going to have to work together, a lot.”

Commissioner Marcy McClelland spoke in favor of exploring new regional partnerships to consolidate services. She specifically suggested looking into a larger K-State Research and Extension district.

“We’re all open to ideas,” she said. “I think we need to direct (Smith-Hanes) to check that out with neighboring districts and see if that would be a possibility. We can start there. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”