BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – In a mid-Friday afternoon budget strategy session, Lee County officials settled on a budget that could short the county $158,000.
However, during preliminary budget discussions, the county was originally looking at a $1.5 million loss for the next fiscal year which runs July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019. The Lee County Board of Supervisors set Feb. 13 to finalize and approve the budget.
“This is something we can deal with,” said chairman Don Hunold on the $158K. “But we’re going to be watching very carefully what happens between now and the end of this fiscal year.”
The 2018-2019 budget includes a $1.5 million deficit in the Mental Health and Developmental Disability Fund. The fund, referred to as “Fund 10” is foregoing a levy in the next year to start to abide by a 2017 Iowa law requiring the spend down of reserve funds.
County Budget Director Cindy Renstrom has earmarked $1,491,788 for that spend down in the budget, but said the fund doesn’t have to be fully spent down until 2020, if the mandate holds through that year and things don’t change at the state level. The board has been cautious about spending down the whole fund because of the ever-changing financial condition of the state.
The $158,000 deficit could be even more if a cash-strapped Iowa legislature doesn’t fulfill a commitment to backfill a portion of property taxes on industrial and commercial property in the state. County Auditor Denise Fraise said that amount is about $287,000.
Supervisor Gary Folluo said he is optimistic, at least this year, that the state will pay the backfill.
“Governor (Kim) Reynolds said in her State of the State address that the state was going to pay that money,” he said after the meeting.
Renstrom presented a budget Friday with a $1.77 million shortfall, but when factoring out the spend down of mental health funds, the deficit was $284,000.
Hunold started asking for ideas to get that whittled down, and again, the board looked at county insurance premiums. The county is currently paying up to $1,700 per month per employee for insurance but only charging the employee $20 for an individual and $95 for a family policy. The board did some quick math on adding $5 to the employee’s contribution which amounted to about a $10,000 savings to the county.
Renstrom then suggested holding $75,000 out of the supplemental budget from the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) board funds cutting the deficit to $208,000. County Recorder Nancy Booten offered to forego $50,000 in record book updates for the year to get the board to the $158,000 mark.
“The books haven’t been copied for years, so I think we can’t take that out. If we get a lot of money, and at the end of the year we have it, you can give it back to me,” she said.
The board removed the $50,000 from the budget with a nod to Booten, and settled on the budget at that point.
The board suggested reviewing the budget again in October to see how department heads are holding the line.
“We need to stress, just because you got the money don’t be spending it just because you have it, because we have to get General Basic back up,” Renstrom said.
Supervisor Ron Fedler said departments heads must start sticking to their budgets.
“We had a lot of budget amendments this year,” Fedler said. If we consistently amend the budget, we fail because we approve a budget and we expect department heads to stick to that budget.”
Supervisor Matt Pflug emphasized the point.
“Let’s be clear. Don’t be coming to the board with any amendments,” Pflug said.
The total budget for the year stands at $26.1 million in revenue with $27.9 million in expenditures, with the above changes not included. The county is projecting to carry approximately $8.62 million in a fund balance at the end of the next fiscal year.