County leaders expect ‘lean’ new budget

Shelby County’s budget for 2009 will be one of the tightest in recent memory.

County leaders expect next year’s general fund budget to be around $59 million, a three percent increase from 2008.

That sounds good until you consider the county has enjoyed an 8 to 10 percent annual jump in revenue each year for almost a decade.

“The increase is less than half of what we have been averaging,” said Butch Burbage, county finance manager. “We’ve been very fortunate, but the state of the economy has just slowed.”

The flat growth rate seems to be in response to a sluggish housing market. Money generated from mortgage and deed taxes as well as building permit fees are down.

“This year will be as lean a budget as we’ve had in my time here,” said Alex Dudchock, who has been county manager for almost 19 years. “This is the slowest growth in the last two decades.”

Burbage estimates the county will have raked in about $1.03 million in building permit fees when the 2008 budget year ends Sept. 30. That’s down from $1.4 million in 2006 and $1.29 million in 2007.

Income collected from property taxes is forecasted to increase, but not nearly as much as in recent years.

Burbage predicts the county will make $12.8 million dollars in property taxes in 2009, a 9.4 percent increase from 2008. The county had boasted at least a 10 percent jump every year since 2006.

“We have to tighten the belt a bit. We are evaluating where we need to spend the dollars the most,” said Burbage. “It’s like at home — sometimes, you can buy that big 48-inch television, but sometimes you just got to buy the bread and butter.”

To compensate for the loss of income, Dudchock will recommend that the county commission pull back on capital projects and hire no new employees in the 12 departments he oversees.

Some of the bigger departments Dudchock manages include the license office and juvenile detention as well as water, environmental and IT services. He also heads facilities and general services, which oversees the county airport and all county parks and buildings.

Dudchock stresses that the hiring freeze he wants would be for his departments only and would not necessarily apply to the staffs of Sheriff Chris Curry, Probate Judge Jim Fuhrmeister or Property Tax Commissioner Don Armstrong.

He said those department budgets would have to be worked out between the three department heads and the commission.

Dudchock also recommends cutting back on capital projects like renovations to buildings and new parks.

The county must also pay for an estimated 10 percent increase in employee healthcare costs and decide whether to fund a cost of living raise this year.

“By no means are we in a crisis,” said Lindsey Allison, who is the commission’s finance committee chairwoman. “We just have to be responsible.”

The commission plans two work sessions Aug. 14 and Aug. 28 to fine-tune the budget, which will go into effect Oct. 1.