With a $1.3 million deficit hanging over their heads, Washington County officials began reviewing departmental budgets Monday morning looking for ways to trim expenditures without cutting services.
The county’s Budget Committee heard from the sheriff, trustee, administrator of elections and health department director, primarily focusing on those expenditures that exceeded last year’s budgeted amount.
One of the foremost concerns for most department heads is salary raises. Many departments, like the sheriff’s department, have budgeted a 3 percent increase for employee wages. According to the sheriff department’s chief operating officer, Leighta Laitinen, the turnover rate in sheriff’s department and the jail is extremely high due to the high-stress and low-wage jobs. She said 18 employees have quit already this year.
“That’s why we think the raises are so important,” Laitinen said, adding that many employees have stuck with the county even through the hard times.
Sheriff Ed Graybeal said the department has cut everything he believes can be cut. According to Laitinen, if any monies were cut from the jail budget, positions would likely have to be cut.
“If we lose any, we’re going to have a lawsuit. ... We’re operating on the bare minimum and we have been since it opened.”
Administrator of Elections Connie Sinks said the county may see some savings in her department since this year isn’t a heavy election year. With new federally required file-maintenance laws and a large presidential preference and Republican county primary election, however, the budget didn’t shrink much. Sinks also requested a 5 percent raise for the election-office employees.
In the Health Department, increases were minimal and primarily due to the new, larger facility.
Though the fiscal year ended June 30 and the county is now operating on a continuing budget, officials have made a good deal of progress over the last few weeks, shrinking the deficit from $4.25 million. Much of that was possible because of debt refinancing and increased employee contributions for health care benefits.
The committee will still need to either find $3 million to fund the county schools’ deficit along with the portion that would have to be sent to the city schools as per Average Daily Attendance requirements, or ask the Board of Education to cut its proposed budget.
The committee will hear from the County Clerk, Circuit Court Clerk, Register of Deeds and Clerk and Master today beginning at 9 a.m.