BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – Lee County officials continue to trim proposed numbers for the 2018-19 fiscal year as the budget is still about $400K short of balancing.
At Tuesday’s Lee County Board of Supervisors’ meeting, budget director Cindy Renstrom presented an updated budget that shows the county out of balance in the 2018-19 budget year by $1.961 million. Total revenues for the year are projected at $25.88 million with expenses showing at $27.85 million. Renstrom is showing a balance carryover of $10.4 million at the end of this fiscal year June 30. That carryover would be reduced to $8.42 million under current budget numbers.
Don Hunold, chair of the county supervisors, said that’s not a pattern the county should continue with. In the last fiscal year, the budget carryover balance went from $13.4 million to $10.4 million.
Dana Millard, marketing and communications director for Lee County Economic Development Group, tried to get out in front a potential cut in funding by updating the board on the progress of the LCEDG.
The economic group provides quarterly updates to the board, but with the county short on balancing the budget, and previously hinting at pulling funding of close to $210,000 from the LCEDG, board members were in attendance, along with Millard, to address the board.
Millard said the group’s focus on developing and retaining jobs in the county, has had an impact in helping reduce the unemployment number in Lee County from close to 9.8% down to 4.7%. But she said that number is still one of the highest in the state and the group has more work to do.
Hunold asked if there has been any thought to combining the LCEDG with the Fort Madison Economic Development Group and The Keokuk Economic Development Group.
“Is there any reason we don’t pull that whole thing together,” Hunold asked.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about that,” Millard said. “Each organization is set up differently and that would be more cumbersome than we want. However, one of Lee County’s main goals is bringing the county together. We want one Lee County moving forward. Site selectors don’t want to deal with multiple entities, they want to deal with one.”
Board member Matt Morris said the current staff has done a great job of bringing those groups together and the communication is very transparent.
“We get the same information and that didn’t happen in the past,” Morris said. “It was tumultuous because groups were protecting assets, but I don’t think the relationship has ever been better.”
Millard said cutting funding to the LCEDG would hurt the private/public relationship.
“I know it’s tough times and you’re looking at numbers, but also think about the people, the communities, and business,” Millard said. “But if you have to cut somewhere, I implore you to not cut economic development. If people see that cut in investment, then what gives them the incentive to invest. These private entities are looking to partner with the supervisors. They don’t want to do it on their own, they can’t. They need your help in moving Lee County forward.”
A week and a half ago the county was showing a budget deficit of $3.03 million for the proposed 2018-2019 budget year. Included in that is a $1.5 million negative balance for mental health and developmentally disabled services. Known as Fund 10 in the county accounting, those funds are specifically earmarked for mental health services. The state is requiring counties, currently, to spend down funds that are being held. According to county officials, those funds have been allocated to counties as a result of closing state mental health facilities such as Mt. Pleasant.
However, county supervisors are cautious that those funds may not be available in the fiscal year and the state could change their tune on spending down the fund.
The county is looking to see if those funds can be used in other departments such as Lee County Health Department and the Lee County Sheriff’s department who regularly have costs associated with the mentally ill and disabled residents.
As it stands, many departments have resubmitted budgets with areas that have been trimmed down.
The sheriff’s department has cut nearly $350,000 out of their budget.
“This is training that we’re cutting,” Weber said. “You’ve got rapid response training, annual training, and then you have vehicles that have to be replaced. All this is being put on hold. Another thing that’s being cut is fuel projections. If the cost of fuel goes up, you’re probably going to see a budget amendment request because we can’t not be on the road.”
Weber said he was also not able to put on the additional two correctional officers at the jail. Supervisors approved hiring two after an incident at that jail where an altercation between one officer and an inmate pointed to safety issues on the overnight shift. They said Weber could look at including two more in the upcoming budget year.
Weber said the staff has agreed to work 12 hour overlapping shifts in order to make sure the safety issues are addressed and more than one officer is on the floor at all times.
“This was the staff realizing this was a dangerous situation and they worked together to come up with the idea. It was them protecting each other because we won’t be able to add the additional staff we need.”
Other departments that have submitted reduced budgets include Secondary Roads which cut their initial budget by $321,000 and the Lee County Board of Health, that cut its initial budget close to $130,000.
LCHD Director Julie Schilling was also on hand to address the board pointing to the programs that are required by the state according to the Department of Public Health’s Title XIX requirements. The only programs not required are homecare and hospice care.
Supervisors agreed to meet again Friday at 2 p.m. at the County Office Building in Fort Madison to further discuss budget options.