County Orders Budgets Shaved To Save 'Millions'

October 21, 1990|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Although County Administrator Buddy Roogow thinks cost-cutting measures will save the county "millions of dollars" this fiscal year, some department heads say they will have a hard time meeting his objectives.

Roogow sent the department heads a letter last week telling them to trim 5 to 10 percent from their budgets without laying off county workers.

Department heads have until Wednesday to let Roogow know what cuts they intend to make.

Savings could be accomplished in the county's $288 million budget by not replacing capital equipment such as computers and trucks, deferring contractual services such as consultant studies and keeping positions vacant when people quit or retire, Roogow said.

The cost-cutting became necessary when county auditors predicted revenue will be $2.9 million less this fiscal year than was anticipated due to a general economic slowdown. Roogow said that if the cost-cutting measures succeed as he hopes, the county "will have safely put away millions of dollars" -- from $6 million to $12 million by his estimate.

A department like public works might be able to achieve Roogow's goal by holding up projects such as road resurfacing. But service-oriented departments may not be able to comply without cutting services -- something department heads say they are loath to do.

"If we have to get to 10 percent, we may have to reduce services -- something no one wants," Citizens Services director Manus J. O'Donnell said Thursday.

The problem for his department, O'Donnell says, is that 80 to 85 percent of his budget is in salaries. Contractual services such as Meals on Wheels and training for the unemployed make up another large portion of his budget, O'Donnell said.

His department will reduce training and conference training expenses, defer the purchase of new computer equipment and delay some study courses -- "areas that would not impact on services," O'Donnell said.

The Department of Recreation and Parks and the county's Planning Office face similar problems.

Deputy planning director Joe Rutter said that in his department the biggest expenditures, apart from salaries, are for consultants. However, most of the money budgeted for consultants has been already been spent, having gone for the General Plan and the proposed adequate facilities ordinance.

"We're looking at what's not encumbered," Rutter said.

Recreation and Parks director Jeffrey A. Bourne said his "labor-intensive service organization" is looking at "individual big ticket items." Those include truck and tractor replacement and resurfacing of tennis courts.

"We can make a decision to spent a few thousand to upgrade a vehicle for another year rather than spend $25,000 to replace it," Bourne said. As part of a general "belt tightening," he said, "the department could cut back on overtime or in some cases not do overtime at all."

Budget cutting in Bourne's department could get down to things like how many tons of fertilizer and grass seed to buy or how much arts and crafts paints to purchase.

"We have to treat this as an opportunity," Bourne said. "There is a tendency to get so involved with day-to-day operations," and Roogow's budget cutting request may be "of assistance in trying to find efficiencies that we may have been to busy to have found before."

Like other department heads, public works director James M. Irvin, said he hasn't "finalized" his plans, but will probably take "the traditional approach: looking at salaries, looking at capital outlays and looking at supplies."

What is different in Irvin's department is that supplies, ranging from stone for road resurfacing to office equipment, make a larger portion of the budget.

County budget administrator Raymond S. Wacks said the cost cutting measures are a "general attempt to be as prudent as we can right now and to hold as many cards as we can for the future."

The administration was prepared for a slowdown in construction because of the ceiling on housing starts, Wacks said.

"In '82, there was a rapid fall-off and a rapid recovery," Wacks said.

"The big question is how fast and how soon this recovery will come. The economic situation is still developing."

Regardless of the general state of the economy, County Administrator Roogow expects no layoffs in next year's salary-heavy budget. Although the administration hasn't begun work on it yet -- neither the bond affordability nor the spending affordability studies have been done -- Roogow expects the tax rate "to stay within its historic $2.50 average."

Neither does Roogow expect a cutback in salaries.

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