SWEETWATER COUNTY – Looking at a rocky financial future, the Sweetwater County Commissioners went to work on the budget Tuesday in the first budget workshop of the year.
Due to sharply declining revenue streams in the mineral industry, the Sweetwater County Commissioners requested departments and outside agencies cut 20 percent across the board. Tuesday morning during the regular session, the commission did receive a bit of good news.
One continuing battle for the commission has been the rising health insurance costs. At one point, it looked as if the county was going to see almost a 20 percent increase in cost. The commission plugged in a 20 percent increase in the department budgets in anticipation of this.
In Tuesday’s regular session, the Commission was informed while they will see an increase, it should only be around an eight percent increase. The commission also voted to make a change to the insurance plan. The new plan has a mix of different deductibles and five different options to choose from. Open enrollment for those on the county insurance will take place next week.
While this was a bit of good news, there is still a long way to go.
The core departments of the county came in with almost $4 million in cuts. Much of this was done by cutting training and travel. Some agencies were able to cut much more than others. Requests ranged from increases in some cases to 20 percent cuts in others.
Seeing this, hearing several requests and noting the core county entities made a 10 percent cut, Commissioner Reid West questioned the 20 percent. He said some agencies made the 20 percent cut while others did not and did not feel it was fair. He said some of these smaller agencies cut as much as they could before they would have to start laying off employees and discontinuing services.
West suggested making a 10 percent cut this year but making it very clear to agencies and departments that next year is looking worse. Departments would need to make cuts throughout the upcoming year to prepare for the 2017-2018 budget. The other belief is to take care of it now with the larger cuts because it does not get better for the foreseeable future.
One request that showcased this a bit was from the Sweetwater County Fire Department. Increase requests were shown in different line items. As Fire Warden Mike Bournazian explained to the commissioners, this is the first time they have had a fully-staffed department. The fire department also is paying for the on-call road and bridge employee in the upcoming budget, which also increases his budget. He told the commission he had cut as much as he possibly could without jeopardizing the safety of the public.
The youth home’s request was also questioned after they made the same request as they did last year. Youth home officials said they have asked for the same amount for the past nine years and have never asked for an increase. They also explained they cannot cut positions by attrition because they are required to have a certain number of employees by statute.
While it might not show in their request, officials of the youth home said they have changed the way they purchase food and have been making repairs in-house to save as much money as possible. They also explained their facility is old, and they could better serve the community with a newer facility. The group has been saving money to look at a new facility in the future.
Commissioner John Kolb said he understood that every group provides an important service to the community but they are all in these tough situations together. He questioned the presenters.
“Do you expect us to fund outside agencies at 100 percent when core government departments like the sheriff is making cuts,” he asked?
West also weighed in.
“We are struggling with a tight budget this year, and I don’t think anyone is going to escape its grasp,” he said.
This was only a workshop, and no decisions were made. The commission will take everything discussed throughout the budget workshops and will make its final decision later. Commission workshops continue Wednesday morning.