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Commission continues spending freeze

Friday, March 16, 2001

Commissioners continued a government office spending freeze Thursday, another step in curbing a future county funding crisis.

The job loss economics of a couple of years ago are just now getting serious, especially for governments, and a cutback in spending will prevent drastic measures – such as layoffs – later, they said.

"We will continue the freeze until we hear from the treasurer’s office about the first half totals (on recent tax collections)," said commissioner Jason Stephens, the ranking Republican.

Commission president Paul Herrell remained absent Thursday due to health problems.

Commissioner George Patterson called the funding situation serious, saying it pertains to everybody.

"We can’t put the county into jeopardy," Patterson said.

If full budget spending is unchecked, and county runs into money problems later, there is a greater risk of layoffs or other drastic moves, he said.

"If it continues as is, there’ll be a lot of people leaving here."

The spending freeze was first enacted Feb. 15 to ensure enough operating money stays in the general fund. The effect of years of job loss created a smaller carryover at the beginning of the year, which led to a cash flow problem rather than a budget problem. And tax revenues were not coming into the county’s funds at the same rate as money being spent.

Commissioners met with county auditor Ray Dutey, then said tax books closed March 9 but collections had not been counted.

Except for utilities, payroll and other items that must be paid, the spending freeze will continue, commissioners said.

And, the county will follow state codes on purchase orders, which means they must be signed first by the auditor’s office and commissioners.

"Everybody needs to be taking this seriously," Patterson said. "When these purchase orders come up here if they’re not absolutely necessary, they won’t be signed."

Once the commission knows the collection rate, the amount of cash that will be available, the county could lift the spending freeze or take other action.

It’s necessary to hold back now until everybody knows the money will be there for the next month and the entire year, Stephens said.

"We’re going month to month on a cash flow problem," he said. "If collections are down and everybody spends all of their money in the first part of the year "

Then there will be problems, which the commission is trying to avoid, he added.