Tooele County Corporation’s ongoing fiscal crisis has taken another turn and where it’s headed remains unclear. But one thing appears certain: More cuts loom ahead and those cuts may include jobs.
At the start of Tuesday’s Tooele County Commission meeting, Commissioner Shawn Milne read a prepared statement that brought silence to the room.
“Having reviewed the most recent budget numbers, including cash flow projections, we find it necessary to take further steps to reduce expenses,” he said.
There is a possibility that budget reductions may include additional staff cuts, according to Bruce Clegg, commission chairman.
“Nothing is off the table,” he said “We have to look at everything.” Commissioners say that more cuts are needed, despite making 50 employee layoffs, slashing remaining workers’ hours, and eliminating two county departments during the last quarter of 2012.
Furthermore, although the 2013 county budget was adopted only two months ago, the commissioners want to reopen it because they are uncertain of its revenue projections.
While the 2012 cuts were precipitated by declining mitigation fees from hazardous waste and jail revenue shortfalls, the new round of austerity measures is preemptive in nature, according to Clegg.
“We are very concerned about the upcoming sequestration of federal spending and what that means to federal revenues that come directly to the county, as well as federal revenue that flow through the state to the county,” he said.
Following 2012’s budget cuts and layoffs, the commissioners balanced the 2013 budget with an 82 percent property tax increase. The effort now is to find additional savings in the budget so the amount of the proposed tax increase can be reduced, added Clegg.
The commissioners will meet in a closed administrative meeting next Tuesday to review the budget and make decisions on where new cuts will fall.
“Anything I could say right now would be premature,” stressed Clegg. “We plan to make our decisions about budget reductions as soon as possible, and then we will let the public know.”
In addition to reopening the budget, the statement read by Milne announced that all county discretionary spending is frozen, including all capital projects, equipment purchases, non-critical repairs, travel, training, and supply purchases not needed to perform present work. Cell phone allowances will also be suspended in March.
“To the extent possible, efforts should be made to limit expenses to salaries, wages and utilities,” said Milne while reading the statement.
The county’s 2013 general fund budget calls for $20.2 million in revenue. The largest revenue source is $4.5 million from property taxes, which includes an additional $2.6 million to be collected from the proposed property tax increase. Under the proposed increase, taxes paid on a $150,000 home in the county would go up by $88 a year, according to Tooele County Auditor Mike Jensen.
Mitigation fees from the West Desert Hazardous Industry Area and the Regional Landfill are estimated to bring in $4.4 million to county coffers this year. The third largest source of revenue is $2.1 million in sales tax revenue and $2.1 million in Payment In Lieu of Taxes.
Also known as PILT, the federal program sends money based on the amount of federal land in the county.
With federal budget cuts being discussed in Washington, D.C. the future of PILT money is uncertain, according to Clegg. “We just want to make sure we aren’t caught off guard by huge cuts in the federal budget,” he said. “We also want to make our budget cuts now to help us reduce the tax increase, because if we make smaller cuts early in the year, they will add up.”