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01-15-03: Commissioners tighten Mercer County's belt
The Daily Standard
    Mercer County Commissioners approved a tighter county operating budget for 2003 on Tuesday, enacting an appropriation resolution with less spending than in 2002.
    The general fund appropriation for 2003 was set at $8,629,906, which is $35,051 lower than the 2002 appropriation of $8,664,957. The total appropriation for all funds (general fund and outside funds) in 2003 is $37,268,474, down from $38,107,535 in 2002.
    Mercer County Auditor Mark Giesige said the county is on stable financial ground with a $1.3 million carryover balance entering 2003, but fiscal caution needs to be exerted in the new year because in 2002 the county spent more money than it received.
    In 2002 the county's carryover balance was $1.8 million. Approximately $500,000 of it was needed for 2003 appropriations. Giesige said the county saw a $300,000 decrease in interest gained on invested money and a $200,000 increase in insurance costs.
    With the setting of appropriations, commissioners created an outline of how much revenue the county is expected to receive during the next year and how each dollar will be spent. Aside from taxes, county revenue can come in the form of grants, loans or fees.
    The county's budget includes two main areas, the general fund and outside funds.
    The general fund includes the budgets of the commissioners, auditor, treasurer, recorder, tax mapping office, sheriff, jail, prosecuting attorney, courts and other county services.
    The county's outside funds include the budgets of agencies that commissioners do not control directly, including Mercer County Solid Waste, Tri-County Mental Health Board, Mercer County-Celina City Health Department, Soil and Water Conservation, Job and Family Services, Cheryl Ann Programs, Mental Retard-ation/Developmental Disabilities programs, Workforce Investment Act and Mercer County sanitary and engineering departments. Many of the funding levels of the outside funds are fixed by the state.
    Giesige on Tuesday said the county spent $55,000 more than it received in 2002, the first time that has happened in several years. General fund revenue in 2002 was $8.11 million, while expenses were $8.16 million.
    This year, all department heads were asked to give their employees only a 1.3 percent cost-of-living raise, Giesige said. They were told the increase would have to be absorbed in their respective budgets because the county was aware that appropriations would not increase with 2003.
    "We need to start concentrating on the general fund," Giesige said of the coming year. "I don't think interest rates are going anywhere, and I can see already that sales tax income is going down."
    Giesige said having a carryover balance is not the same as excess money because the county's finances can change dramatically from year to year. Respecting the carryover is especially important this year, because state representatives have already mentioned the legislature is considering cutting local government funding, Giesige said.
    A complete cut of local government money would be $1 million less in income for the county, which Giesige said would immediately lead to job cuts and reduction of county services.
    "Mercer County is in good shape. We're not nearly as bad as some other counties," Giesige said. "But we worked hard to get ourselves in this position and we're going to have to work even harder to maintain it."


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