Budget crunch hits home with city, county

Budget crunch hits home with city, county

My brother and I have spent many hours this month in budget meetings with county supervisors, municipal officials and school trustees. That’s part of what we do as a newspaper. In some ways it’s rather mundane for us and for the elected officials who are preparing the budgets, but these meetings are where real government begins and ends.
State law requires governmental entities to adopt balanced budgets. Planned expenditures must be covered by anticipated revenues — at least on paper — by the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1. State law holds public officials to within 10 percent of what they put on paper at the beginning or the year. If they exceed 10 percent, they must go back to the public with a hearing.
This year’s budget process created more angst in the City of Batesville and among county supervisors than we can remember. Like families, governments get stressed when there is not enough money to go around, and that is what’s happening.
In Batesville, gas revenues have been reduced by the last two relatively mild winters. The city and county have both been impacted by loss of major ad valorem tax payers. Aldermen and supervisors get caught in the squeeze.
The city brought its department heads in Wednesday for a final round of cuts. The idea was for each department to be made aware that everybody was getting cut and nobody was going to remain unscathed.
For Kelley Magee, brought in to assist City Clerk Susan Berryhill in preparing budget numbers, it was budgeting from a new perspective. She has long experience working with the county budget as county administrator, but she quickly picked up on how unpredictable the city’s sources of revenue can be. In the county, where the main source of revenue comes from ad valorem taxes, cash flow was more predictable. With the city, where cash flow comes primarily from gas sales and sales tax, its much less predictable.
After department heads in the city had seen one item after another stripped from the requests they had presented on wish lists to aldermen last week, I spotted water and sewer superintendent Mike Ross, who was wearing short pants at the meeting, and asked him: “Mike, were you wearing long pants when they started this meeting?”

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