Musings on the City and County Budget Processes

Maybe the reason is in the date.  June 6 of the sixteenth year.  Hmm, 6/6/16 isn’t quite 6/6/6.  Whatever the reason, the City and County both met today to discuss budgets.

The County has an operating budget of 40 million dollars; the City is closer to 100 million.  The County had a $4.9 million general fund balance at the end of 2015.  The City had $3.4 million but hopes to close 2016 with a $5 million balance at the end of 2016.  As was stated in the City’s study session, those who issue bonds would be glad to see the City have a $5 million fund balance.

Both have a governing board of five Commissioners.

The County Commission oversees:

  • Roads and bridges in the county (but not in the city limits)
  • Sheriff, the Jail, and the rural fire departments and emergency medicine services
  • Health Department
  • EXPO Center, noxious weed, planning and zoning, and many other vital services such as registering deeds, appraising property, conducting elections etc.

The City Commission oversees:

  • Water and Wastewater
  • Police and the city’s fire department
  • Sanitation and Solid Waste
  • Public Works—including engineering and streets (within the city limits)
  • Special Parks, Neighborhood Parks, and Golf Course
  • Arts and Humanities (of which the City historically contributes $500,000 and A&H events raise about the same revenue)

Today, the County earmarked $160,000 to build a warm-up barn at the EXPO Center, so those attending horse shows have a place to “warm up” their animal, before showing them.  The County has yet to discuss employee raises and benefits.

Today, the City spoke of putting in the 2017 Proposed Budget a 4% increase to account for merit and/or cost of living increases.  Will the children of City employees be warm this winter, where the horses of show goers will be warm at the Expo Center?  As an observer, I think this illustrates the different focus between the two entities.  It is well known that City employees in peer positions make several thousand more than do County employees.  Perhaps that’s because the City budgets for their staff upfront, whereas the County talks about raises at near the end of their budget process.

The County budget parks money in several places that can be hard to spot.  For the last two Decembers, the County has circulated a document that shows it has $60 million in reserves; that’s almost $1,000 for every Saline County resident.  The State holds onto at least half of these reserves, perhaps in some kind of emergency management capacity.  But should any governmental entity hold significant “reserves” obtained by taxing its citizens.  I thought we, as a people, rebelled against this in 1776.

One County Commissioner spoke of buying gravel as an investment for future years.  I’ve concluded he has a stone-cold heart, based on how he’s voted on other matters.

The County hasn’t said much about what it will do with the recently vacated Road and Bridge Director position.  There is some discussion about keeping the position vacant.  The City hired Jim Kowach to serve as the Public Works Director.  Today is Jim’s first day; this position has been vacant for perhaps a year.

The City holds weekly one to two hour study sessions that focus on one topic.  One source of revenue may be studied one week and then one set of expenses might be studied the next.  Or, they may look at plans for a development or do long-term goal planning.  This doesn’t really happen with the County.

Both the City and County have to approve their budgets in early to mid-August.  Very few individuals take much interest in the County’s budget.  Yet, when it rains, they complain.

It is easy to spend money.  It is more challenging to balance expenditures with revenues.  Both the City and County would be better served if more individuals took an interest in the entire process.  Two County Commissioner candidates have attended all of the County’s budget discusses.  To me, that puts Rodger Sparks and David Nichols at the head of the pack, in their respective races.