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Pierce County facing major budget decisions

Over three months after 2007 budget work began in earnest, Pierce County administrators still have more than $1.3 million to cut from department requests.

The human services department is proposing a 53 percent increase in its budget and that doesn't take into account another $906,400 needed to cover the department's deficits for this year and last, reported Finance Director Julie Brickner Monday night.

She said the budget turned in by the sheriff's department reflects a three percent cut, but the sheriff is asking for increases in personnel, which aren't included in the budget.

Despite the sheriff's department cuts, "The bottom line would still go up," said Brickner.

Also, said Brickner, the public health department's proposal to trim its budget by eliminating a jail nurse position would only move that job to the sheriff's department budget. Therefore, a supposed $109,000 cut would be about half that amount.

While many of the smaller departments have offered cuts from their 2006 budget, the finance and personnel committee is still dealing with some larger departments that are asking for more tax levy support.

Brickner said Monday budget requests as they stand include $329,500 for new positions, $906,400 to cover human service department deficits for this year and last, but no provisions for additional money in the property acquisition fund or to cover losses from pending lawsuits.

She said even after using $30,000 in new farm land conversion funds, an extra $125,000 from the county's sales tax fund and $325,000 from investment interest, the county needs to cut $1,339,848 from budget requests to stay under state-mandated tax levy caps.

One of the concerns listed by Brickner was a proposed $908,321 increase in the human services budget.

"Why, in the name of fiscal sanity, are we looking at a 60 percent increase in budget?" demanded County Board Chairman Paul Barkla. The department also had a double-digit levy increase a year earlier.

Barkla said that, while he understands needs in the human services area, at some point the county has to say there is no more money.

The county has lawsuits pending, but has made no provisions for paying that potential cost, added Barkla.

"We don't know what's out there," he said.

A suggestion was made to send some of the budgets back to their parent committees, but Finance and Personnel Committee Chairwoman Kirstin Schilling wondered if that would do any good.

"We've said it and said it and said it," said Schilling of instructions to cut budgets. "I don't know what good it's going to do to say it again."

Brickner asked committee members to take a week to go over the preliminary budget documents and consider any changes they'd like to see or questions they have.

The committee is scheduled to meet 4-9 p.m. next Monday and 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4, to continue budget work.

Because many of the smaller budgets have already been tentatively approved, the committee plans to focus on these departments: human services, law enforcement, public health, highway and university extension.