Future reserves among county budget concerns

By Jack King

Curry County commissoners will meet at 9 a.m. this morning in commissioners’ chambers in the Curry County Courthouse to consider a draft budget for fiscal year 2003-2004.
Commissioners are dealing with an estimated shortfall of $318,745.
County Manager Geneva Cooper said, under the proposed budget, the county will end next year with an adequate reserve, but if revenues don’t increase and spending continues at its current level, reserves will decline sharply.
Commissioners voted 3-2 May 20 to ask Curry County voters to approve a one-eighth percent increase in gross receipts taxes to cover the shortfall. But Commissioners Pete Hulder and Kathryn Tate said the county should draw from its reserves and reduce spending.
The county’s general fund is the part of the budget with a projected shortfall. It is also the part funded by local taxes. General fund expenditures are projected to be about $6.6 million in 2003-2004, she said.
The general fund includes funding for the commission, the county manager’s office, the county clerk, the sheriff’s office, county judges, the county tax assessor and the detention center. Some funds also are transferred from the general fund to the county roads department, Cooper said.
Cooper said causes of the shortfall include a decline in county interest revenue, an increase in employees’ health insurance, the costs of two upcoming elections and the cost of housing and caring for prisoners in the county detention center.
She said commissioners already have committed to taking $900,000 from the county’s reserves next year to pay for a county events center and for improvements to a building at 824 Main that will house work release inmates from the county jail.
The county is projected to end the 2003-04 fiscal year with a $2.3 million reserve, enough to meet the state Department of Finance and Administration’s requirement that the county keep a reserve equal to three-twelfths of its budget. But the reserve is projected to decline in the next two fiscal years, reaching $1.1 million in 2005-06, she said.
“Next year we will probably have to look at reducing insurance coverage for county employees. If the shortfalls continue, we could look at a freeze on raises and not replacing employees who retire,” she said.
Not included in this draft budget is a request from Sheriff Roger Hatcher for six new deputies and a salary increase for his chief deputy. Also absent is a request from County Clerk Mario Trujillo for a 4 percent, rather than a 3 percent, employee raise to cover the increased cost of health insurance.
“Anything you add at this point will increase the shortfall,” she said.
Cooper said the county must send a draft budget to DFA by the first week in June and a final version to the department by July 31.