Tooele County Commissioners are making deep budget cuts and laying off employees as they attempt to stave off an estimated $4 million revenue shortfall by slashing expenses in the last three months of the 2012 budget.
Revenue forecasts for contracted jail inmates and mitigation fees paid by the hazardous waste industry have failed to materialize, leaving the county short 17.5 percent on its $22.8 million 2012 general fund budget, which ends on December 31.
“We’ve known for some time that the revenue wasn’t coming in like we had thought it would,” said Bruce Clegg, Tooele County commissioner. “We did what we could, like our hiring freeze, and were hoping that something might happen and things would pick up, but it didn’t happen.”
The entire three-employee economic development department has been notified that their department will be closed and all employees laid off at the end of September. County surveyors, other than elected county surveyor Doug Kinsman, and 22 sheriff’s office employees have also been given termination notices, according to Doug Hogan, Tooele County attorney.
The economic development department was created in 2008 with Nicole Cline as director. Cline was working as the county planner at the time the department was created and had also been working on economic development since 2002.
At the time of the department’s formation, county commissioners said splitting the department from the planning division would allow both departments to function more effectively.
Now the economic development department is being eliminated because it is not a function of county government required by state law, Clegg said.
“The commissioners will pick up the duties of economic development,” said Clegg. “Economic development is important but it not a department we are required by law to have.”
The $25 million new jail, with a capacity of 250 inmates, was budgeted to bring in $2.3 million this year by contracting to take in out-of-county inmates, largely from the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
To date, the county has seen less than $50,000 in revenue from contracted inmates, according to Hogan.
“The jail was staffed as if it would be at capacity,” said Hogan. “Now the sheriff will have to lay off some of that staff.”
The commissioners cut the sheriff’s office budget by $800,000 for the remainder of the year, according to Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park.
“That $800,000 cut translates into losing 20 people and the commissioners cut out a two-man hazmat team,” said Park.
Jail staff were hired based on the amount of people needed to run the new facility, not on the amount of prisoners at the facility. The inmate population fluctuates, with the current population housed at the jail at 127, according to Park.
The new jail was built to be compliant with the federal Prison Rape Elimination act that requires total separation of males and females, with males guarding males and females guarding females, said Park.
“That alone, the separation by sex, required more staff than the old jail,” said Park. “Compliance with new regulations combined with the old jail’s inadequate size we needed a new facility.”
Not all of the 20 employees that will be cut will come from the jail, said Park. Every division will be examined to see where employees can be trimmed.
“The layoffs will leave some holes,” said Park. “The hazmat team also performed duties of the SWAT team and was the liaison with Search and Rescue. The county will now also have to have some kind of contract or memorandum with another agency to provide hazmat cleanup in the unincorporated areas of the county.”
Park is working with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office, which is hiring, to find positions for some of his laid off staff.
Hogan said some of the budget reduction for the jail would be just adjusting numbers to fit reality, as some expenses for the jail, such as medical expenses, were not incurred because the jail has not operated at capacity.
Overall, the biggest drop in county revenues has come from mitigation fees.
Fees paid by EnergySolutions, Clean Harbors — for both its Grassy Mountain and Aragonite facilities — Deseret Chemical Depot operator URS, and landfill operator Republic Services were conservatively budgeted at $5.7 million, compared to $7.1 million actually collected in 2011.
Actual mitigation fees received to date are $2.5 million.
“EnergySolutions is the biggest payer of mitigation fees and their activity at Clive is down this year,” said Hogan.
In a conference call on EnergySolutions’ 2012 second-quarter earnings, Gregory Wood, EnergySolutions chief financial officer reported that revenue for their logistics, processing and disposal segment was down by $13 million compared to second-quarter 2011 revenue due to a lower amount of government waste being disposed of at Clive as federal stimulus funding dropped off.
Mitigation fees have always been a roller coaster ride for the county, peaking at $9.1 million in 2007 and then dipping to a low of $6.4 million in 2008. Now it appears those fees will fall to an all-time low this year.
Mitigation fees were not always such a large part of the county’s operating budget, said Jensen.
“I don’t feel that mitigation fees should be such a large part of the county’s budget, but it is something that started a long time ago,” said Jensen. “The county gradually became more reliant on mitigation fees as they grew and the county also grew to provide more services and personnel.”
The county is probably not done cutting yet, since eliminating the economic development department, laying off surveyors, reducing jail staff, and adjusting expense projections will most likely not be enough to add up to the expected $4 million shortfall, Clegg said.
“We are looking at every department for potential cuts,” said Clegg. “There will probably be more cuts announced as we review operations in every department.”