County finds its balance


    Kent County commissioners are expected to adopt the 2011 budget for general operations next week, two days after the county’s Finance Committee gets its final chance to tweak it on Tuesday.

    But a lot of tweaking may not happen. Commission Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish told members of the Finance Committee last week that now isn’t the time to make a lot of adjustments to a generally balanced spending plan — especially when many citizens are demanding that governments live within their means and an uncertain economic future faces the state.

    “In the past week, as chair, I have heard from several commissioners who would like to add line items back into the budget or increase the budget for programs or services that are important to them or their constituencies. Each of these programs or initiatives is important and I empathize with the commissioners that would like to make these changes or amendments,” said Parrish.

    “As we move into the final phases of deliberating the 2011 budget, it is more important than ever that we be dogged in our pursuit of a balanced budget and provide the leadership that our citizens are demanding of all of us.”

    When the budget process began, the general fund was $9.5 million in the red, meaning that, in order to balance it, cuts of $7.5 million would be needed and $2 million would need to be withdrawn from the reserve. But as the budget now stands, it is balanced for all practical purposes. The reserve is only expected to be tapped for $13,486.

    Parrish said the 2011 budget is the first balanced spending plan the county has had for general operations since 2001. She credited County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio and the county’s department managers with making the necessary changes to bring it in balance. She said it is a budget that lives within the county’s means and maintains the county’s longstanding record of being fiscally responsible.

    The overall appropriations for the budget total $165.1 million, which includes nearly $31 million that already has been allocated to departments that receive financial support from the fund but don’t receive all their revenue from the county. Direct spending for general fund services for next year comes to $131.2 million — which is $2.8 million less than this year, $4.4 million less than in 2009, and $6.3 million less than in 2008. Another $2.9 million is going to capital improvements. Nearly 100 county employees are voluntarily retiring at the end of this year.

    Ten of 15 county departments have cut expenses for next year, while the rest are keeping expenditures at roughly this year’s levels. The single biggest cut of $1.6 million is coming from the Sheriff’s office, where personnel are being let go, vacant positions are being eliminated and the Honor Camp is being closed. The latter move accounts for roughly half the total cut at $850,000.

    “I don’t believe it affects the safety of the community at all,” said Sheriff Larry Stelma of the closing.

    Revenue to the budget has been projected at almost $141 million, up from last year because the county has been told by the state that it will receive a full revenue-sharing payment in 2011 and that will bring the total revenue from government sources to $16.6 million. That source was worth $9.3 million to the county this year and roughly $9 million in each of the two previous years.

    But revenue from property taxes is likely to be down next year to around $84 million, about $2 million less than it has been in recent years. Income from the county’s investments next year is also expected to be off, at $887,500. Delabbio said the county was earning $6 million to $7 million from its investments 10 years ago.

    Delabbio also said the revenue projections are estimates that could go higher or lower. He said he would know more about where the revenue total will end up after the county receives its revenue-sharing payments from the state next summer. Before last week’s election, Delabbio said he hadn’t heard from Lansing that changes will be made to revenue sharing.

    “I always look at the budget as a fluid document. I hate to say it, but it’s a guideline,” he said.

    In addition to having a balanced budget, Parrish said she was pleased to hear that department managers reported that service levels won’t be reduced during the coming year even with fewer dollars and fewer employees. She also said funding for the Purchase of Development Rights program for next year would remain at this year’s level of $275,000 and not be raised to $350,000, an amount a few commissioners requested last month.

    “So while the 2011 budget may not accomplish everything each one of us would like individually, when looked at in its entirety, it accomplishes a great deal, and most importantly, it lives within our means,” Parrish said.

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