Friday, November 17th, 2006
By Timothy Cox
Budget could hit $9.7 million next year
Reserve funds likely will be needed to balance
  Mercer County government officials are getting an early start on the 2007 budget process.
County commissioners already have met with all elected officials and department heads regarding the spending plan for next year. Based on those budget requests and a subsequent round of cuts by commissioners, the county still would have to dip into its reserve balance to make the 2007 budget work.
Preliminary budget projections show $9.7 million in spending with estimated 2007 revenues of $8.75 million. An estimated $1.6 to $1.8 million reserve balance would help bridge the shortfall between projected spending and revenue received. Also, commissioners could pare the budget down further before final approval, expected near the end of the year or early next year.
Commissioners called the budget requests from county offices "reasonable," even though the county might have to dip into money carried over from this year to pay the bills. Most requests were for 3 to 4 percent increases.
"Most of them have come in pretty good," Commissioner Jerry Laffin said, noting the exceptions are offices that expect to make major renovations or equipment purchases, or that plan to add staffing next year.
County officials appropriated about $9 million for 2006 but are on pace to spend about $9.3 million based on current spending and supplemental appropriations that have been added to the budget.
Increasing spending next year to $9.7 million would be an increase of about 4.3 percent over this year's budget. Initial requests from county offices approached $9.9 million.
"We talked with some of the department heads and have already been through one round of cuts," Laffin said, noting commissioners trimmed about $170,000 from the original requests.
Commissioners said they will continue to evaluate the budget and discuss it with Commissioner Jim Zehringer, who is on vacation. Further cuts could be made as they delve deeper into the process, they said.
In a few weeks, county Auditor Mark Giesige will certify the expected revenue that will be available. Commissioners said they expect the figure to fall very close to Giesige's preliminary $8.75 million projection.
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