By Nancy Allen
Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District board members Thursday cut roughly $16,000 (7 percent) from this year's budget in light of a county-wide drop in revenue.
The amount includes about $9,000 in already appropriated county funds and another $7,000 in state matching funds.
Board members approved the cuts upon the request of Mercer County Commissioners who last week asked all county departments to make cuts to shave $600,000 from this year's county operating budget.
The cuts approved by SWCD board members Thursday include $2,239 from workers' compensation premiums that were overestimated, $500 saved by not printing the second quarterly newsletter, $1,850 from travel, $380 from contract services for telephone and long distance services and $500 from the equipment budget. The remainder will be transferred from Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program technical assistance funds into the employee salary fund.
SWCD administrator Nikki Hawk said she did not anticipate cutting staff unless commissioners request more reductions. Commissioners have to wait until the various departments submit their numbers before they know if they will have to request more cuts, or perhaps order them. Commissioners met last week with elected county officials to request the cuts, adding that if the goal is not reached, more drastic measures would come.
At that meeting, Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders, the legal counsel for the county, said commissioners need to cut all discretionary funding from the budget before any statutory offices can be forced to reduce operations. Statutory offices are those required to be funded by law such as sheriff, courts, clerk, auditor and recorder. Offices funded by discretionary funds include the SWCD office, parks, Lakefield Airport, 4-H and OSU Extension Service.
"If it comes to cutting staff, then we'd have to have a special meeting before the end of May," Hawk said. "Right now all we can do is go with the numbers we have and try to minimize spending."
The county has lost more than $1 million in revenue since 2001, when the county budget had a $1.8 million carryover. Double-digit health and liability insurance increases, combined with a freeze on local government assistance funds and plummeting interest income has put the county in a bind, Mercer County Auditor Mark Giesige explained to commissioners last week.
Board member Leisa Boley Hellwarth reported that a draft of SWCD employee pay scale revisions has been completed by the Dublin-based firm Clemans Nelson & Associates, and she will soon send out copies for board members to review.
The SWCD board last November agreed to hire the firm to do the revisions. The county agreed to cover the cost of the service. The firm is one the county has used to do similar pay scale studies for other county positions.
Board members had considered doing the revisions themselves, but decided against it to protect against any bias. The board will still make the final decision over whether the pay scale revisions are accepted.