Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hill County Commission has asked departments to try to cut back 2010 spending in anticipation of reduced revenues later in the year. “Hopefully we can avoid personnel reductions by tightening our belts early in the year,” the commissioners wrote in a memo to the departments. The commissioners said they asked departments to try to cut spending by 5 percent because of decreasing revenue in oil and gas and investment income, as well as having tax payments locked up because they were made under protest. “We’re looking into the future,” Commission Chair Mike Wendland said. “We know we’re going to be short of what we anticipated.” The county budget which was late in being finalized while the county was waiting for information from the state Department of Revenue on property values in new appraisals was cut by about $800,000 from the initial proposed budget when it was finalized in October. The new request is in addition to those cuts, which largely were in reducing requests for capital expenditures. The commission said in October it had balanced the budget without cutting any positions or services. If revenue continues to fall, eliminating jobs may be the next step. “As we all know when we reviewed budgets, there (were) no extras left so the next place that may have to be considered is personnel cuts,” the memo said. Some department heads say making cuts in their operations is virtually impossible. “I have nothing to shave,” said Hill County Clerk of Court Dena Tippets. “It’s always bare bones. That’s how we operate here.” Tippets, who operates with two deputies in her office, said all expenses are for operations required by law. She can’t cut back on paper, postage, envelopes, anything, she said. “I would have to cut off an arm or a leg,” Tippets said. “I would have to cut staff (to cut expenses), and I couldn’t operAte with less staff.” Others say they have been able to cut back, but there is no way of knowing what will happen. “You just do what you have to, whatever it takes,” said Hill County Treasurer/Assessor Carrie Dickson. “Cinch your belt, that’s all you can do.” Dickson said one of the major cuts is in travel she has had to carefully consider what meetings to attend. “Instead of going to all, you may only attend one, which is not necessarily a good thing, but that’s what you have to start doing,” she said. She said she is selecting what meeting or meetings she will attend and hoping she can get notes from other county treasurers to find out what happened at the other meetings. The other concern is to hope that nothing breaks down because there is no money with which to replace it, Dickson said. “There is no capital outlay so you’re just out of luck,” she said. “You just pray.” Jerry Otto, head of the county road department, said his department has made the cuts, but keeping that up depends at least partly on the weather. “We’re just watching our spending all around, everything we do,” Otto said. He said that while the department has been doing some plowing and cleaning up some roads, especially in the mountains, having less snow than is normal in the area has helped keep the expenses down. “It depends on how the rest of the winter goes,” he said. Commissioner Mike Anderson said there is no way to know exactly how the budget picture will pan out over the next six months. “Revenues are estimates,” he said “We just don’t know what the revenues are going to be.” Commissioner Kathy Bessette said part of the problem is in increased taxes due to reappraisals, including the first major reappraisal of agricultural land in some 40 years. Some county taxpayers are paying their taxes under protest, which locks the funds up until the protest is resolved, Bessette said. An o t h e r i s s u e i s t h e decreased income from oil and gas exploration and production. Anderson said he expects that income to pick up as the economy recovers, but when and how much is unknown. The county also has experienced significant losses in the income from invested funds, which was down about a quarter- of-a-million dollars from the previous year. Much of the county’s concerns about revenue stem from the same issue that led to shortfalls in the last budget year, he added. “Last year we fell short, but who would have guessed the country’s economy would go so far south?” he said.