County Budget Shortfall Leaves Analysts Scrambling

Numbers Cruncherstake A Breather

May 19, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

Thursday was a holiday of sorts forthis group of furious numbers crunchers.

Buried under budget requests for months, staring at computer screens for days at a time, and wearing out their calculator fingers for hours on end, Steven D. Powell and his budget band were the stars of the show during the county's annual budget hearing.

At the end of the hour-long hearing at Westminster High School, Commissioner Julia W. Gouge asked the four budget analysts to stand and take a bow in front of the 75 county residents in attendance.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of incorrect information provided to our photographer, internal auditor William Burton of the county Office of Management and Budget was misidentified on Page 2 last Sunday. Director Steven D. Powell did not appear in the photo.

They reluctantly agreed; publicity isn't usually their bag.

"It gets a little better in here after the public hearing," said Jeff Topper, a 36-year-old accountant who has been the operating budget and revenue supervisor for the last two years.

That is, it usually gets better after the public hearing.

While the $115.3 million budget is fairly close to being signed, sealed and delivered, Powell and the rest of the analysts in the Department of Management and Budget have written and rewrittenthe document no less than six times since February.

And that is arecord for the department that has been crunching this county's numbers for the last four fiscal years.

Preparing the book that outlines all county expenditures and receipts for the year beginning July 1has been an onerous task for the budget office.

"When we get in here after Christmas, it's rough until about the first week of April,"Topper said. The average day in the cramped third-floor office just steps from the commissioners' offices starts at 8 a.m. and, during light days, ends at around 7 p.m. Sometimes those days stretch to 10 or11 p.m. or later.

"If the commissioners request certain kinds of information, we have got to have that information," Topper said.

Thursday's "holiday" may prove elusive this year. With continual shocks in a state budget that has seen increasing deficits since November,an unpredictable fluctuation in the financial markets and the uncertain budget implications of last week's reorganization plan, the office has its work cut out for it.

"We're going to have a crunch here," said Gary Horst, who, with 2 1/2 years of service, is the senior member of the analyst team. "There's a lot to do from now until July 1."

Horst, 46, is a retired Navy commander with a master's degree inbusiness administration. He, like his four colleagues, conducts business with a well-developed sense of humor.

It's a matter of survival, really. The countless budget packets presented to commissioners -- and occasionally, the media -- are adorned with amusing, computer-generated drawings and titles like "More Fun With Numbers."

And, itseems, a bit of joking around comes in handy when you're not compensated for overtime.

The analysts -- like Powell -- can accumulate compensatory time, but only up to 75 hours. When asked whether any of them had accumulated that much -- a feat reached after only about a month of 12-hour days -- they laughed.

Powell, who earlier in the budget season battled a weeklong, fatigue-related cold, has been taking the last couple of Fridays off. And the others -- including the "youngsters" of the office, 31-year-old Steven Pyne and 32-year-old Kevin Grabill -- have plans for what to do with their two weeks of earnedcomp time.

If only they could just put 1992's budget to bed.

And that, of course, is up to the County Commissioners.

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