Hearings for the 2012 Putnam County budget are less than a month away and the county finds itself in need of making some serious cuts.
The budget amounts requested from the county general fund by department heads for next year total just over $5 million. The total for all funds currently estimated for next year's budget is just short of $6.4 million.
This doesn't compare favorably with the state's estimated levy of $4.6 million for the county.
"In looking ahead to what we're going to have to do in August and what we might have to do next year, we're over the levy by $1.798 million," County Council President Darrel Thomas said at Tuesday's meeting.
"At this point, I'm opening the table here for thoughts and ideas."
A number of solutions were discussed, including several major budget-cutting measures presented by Auditor Stephanie Campbell.
"None of them are pretty," Thomas said.
A number of reasons for the current situation were discussed by the council and the county commissioners, all three of whom were at Tuesday's meeting.
The first scenario presented was to cut all department budgets to their level for this year. The savings of $1,007,031 would not take care of the entire amount, but it would make a major dent in the shortfall.
The council passed the measure 5-0.
A second proposal was to ask all department heads to cut their remaining 2011 budget by 10 percent. The money saved could be rolled into next year.
The council asked Campbell to send out a memo to all departments regarding the changes. Additionally, all department heads were asked to come to the Aug. 22 and 23 budget hearings prepared to make more cuts.
"The budget hearings are next month. I think we need to set the wheels in motion tonight so the office holders know when they sit before us next month, they need to be prepared to make cuts," Thomas said.
In spite of the cuts, though, some work in the county still has to be done. The commissioners came before the council Tuesday to request an additional $500,000 from the rainy day fund for road money for the County Highway Department.
"We had $300,000 this year for repair and maintenance," Commissioner Kristina Warren said.
However, the amount, which was not high enough to begin with, has depleted rapidly in the face of February's ice storm and a number of spring storms.
"We are asking for $500,000 from the rainy day fund or else we have to stop," Warren said.
The department hasn't even been attempting to put down new roads, simply to patch and repair the existing surfaces. With funds gone, it's a losing battle.
"Year after year, you can't just keep not doing what you need to do," Beck said.
A lengthy discussion between the two boards ensued, with councilors Roger Deck and Jay Fogle requesting to see a more detailed list of what the department plans to do with the money.
"I agree that the roads are bad. All I'm saying is, give me a plan of where you're going to go and what you're going to do," Deck said.
Thomas disagreed, though, saying he did not want to see the council micromanaging the responsibilities of the commissioners.
"The responsibility of roads is the commissioners. If they say it needs to be done, then that's their responsibility," Thomas said. "I don't have anything to offer. My expertise is not roads."
Another worry was that the commissioners and highway department might return before the end of the year again asking for additional money.
"That'll carry us through the end of the year," highway co-supervisor Jim Smith said.
Ultimately, Fogle made a motion to tentatively approve an additional appropriation of $400,000 from the rainy day fund to the county highway road and street fund. The motion was made with the understanding that an additional $100,000 may be requested before year's end.
The measure passed 4-0, with Deck abstaining from the vote.
Fogle also made a point of voicing his approval for the job the County Highway Department has done, saying the roads are perhaps the most important service the county provides.
"I would like to say you guys are doing a good job. It's my personal opinion that the roads are the reason we're here," Fogle said.