Local agencies collaborate to cut spending, save money –
By Patricia Beech –
Local government leaders are making hard budget choices as they face the now inevitable closing of Adams County’s coal-fired power plants later this year.
Slated to close by June 2018, the plants have provided millions in tax revenue to the county for more than four decades.
Now, that money is going away – permanently.
Adams County Commissioners Brian Baldridge, Diane Ward, and Ty Pell are asking the county’s agency directors and staff to find creative and collaborative ways to trim their budgets, cut their expenses, and hang on to services and personnel as long as possible.
“We’re encouraging the agency directors to streamline their departments so we get more bang for our buck,” said Commissioner Ward. “We’re thankful no one has been laid off, but that’s just one of the possibilities we have to face going forward.”
The commissioners met Monday, Feb. 5 with representatives from several county agencies impacted by the plant closings, including the Senior Citizens Council, the Council for Aging, Children’s Services, the Wilson Children’s Home, the Health Department, the Board of Developmental Disabilities, the Adams County Library, and the County EMS.
Discussion centered around the need for department personnel to streamline operations, explore other potential sources of income, and prepare to sustain their offices without the addition of new tax levies.
“We’re looking for information about how this loss of revenue will affect each department,” Commissioner Ty Pell said. “Unknown variables prevent anyone from presenting factual estimates of the loss of capitol, but the board wants to prepare for the worst.”
County Auditor David Gifford provided projected budgets for each department. “The further along we go in this process, the more concrete the numbers get,” said Gifford. “Right now, we’re in uncharted territory.”
He said the devaluation of the power plant property remains an unknown variable in the projected county budget.
“The real estate is still there, but if a group like the Nature Conservancy bought those 4,000 acres, they would be exempt,” said Gifford. “We can project numbers, but we don’t know what the valuation (of the plant property) is going to be, but we know it’s going to be far less than it was.”
Each department presented a summary of their most immediate needs and challenges including their expected expenses, and their unexpected and unpredictable costs.
“Everyone of these departments is underfunded,” said Commissioner Pell. “But, we can’t all go to the voters at the same time to be able to make up the difference in what we have.”
Pell said the county leadership is working to establish priorities and figure out how to proceed during the next few years.
“We’re tying to get as much input and as many concrete numbers as we can, but we’re in this waiting period right now. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “That’s why we’re starting this process, we’re trying to analyze our levies and be fiscally responsible for our citizens.”
Setting an example for other the county departments, the Commissioners Office is collaborating with the Treasurer’s Office and the Board of Elections Office to save money by sharing employees.
“We believe that we all need to cut back and find better ways to do things, that’s why we’re doing a collaborative effort,” said Ward. “If we can do it, every department can do it in a way that doesn’t involve losing people.”
Levies provide critical operating funds for several county agencies that offer services to senior citizens, veterans, children, and many others.
The Commissioners voiced their support for continuing both renewal and replacement levies, but balked at the idea of putting new, additional levies on the ballot.
“We’re here to guard the taxpayers dollars,” said Ward. “Not to put more on them.”
But, in a county lacking the basic infrastructure needed to drive economic growth, could crucial social services be curtailed or lost after the power plants close? Ward says that isn’t likely to happen.
“Every department has taken a hit, and everyone is trying their best to do what they can because we are obligated by the state to provide all of these services, and we have to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”