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12-31-04 Mercer County budget requests at lower levels

By Sean Rice

  Representatives from the nearly two dozen departments comprising the county government filed through the Mercer County Commissioners office this week, submitting budget requests for 2005.

  Nearly all officials submitted requests that come near the commissioners request to reduce their budgets by 10 percent for next year to avoid a deficit that has been approaching for years.
  A majority of money in the overall budget, hovering near $38 million for the past few years, is accounted for in "outside" accounts that are not under the control of county commissioners. Though much of the outside accounts have set funding levels from the state, commissioners still budget the amounts each year.
  The county's general fund, set at $8.78 million in 2004, contains the accounts in which commissioners set most funding levels.
  The general fund includes the budgets of the commissioners, maintenance, auditor, treasurer, recorder, tax mapping office, sheriff, jail, elections board, prosecuting attorney, courts and others.  Outside accounts include Mercer County Solid Waste District, Tri-County Mental Health Board, Job and Family Services, Cheryl Ann Programs, MR/DD, Workforce Investment Act, Sanitary Department, Engineering Department and Mercer County-Celina City Health Department.
  For the last three years general fund spending has been exceeding overall income into the fund. A $1.87 million carry-over balance starting 2002 was used to patch income shortfalls that year and each since.
  At the start of 2004, Mercer County Auditor Giesige estimated the general fund income for the year would total $7.8 million. As a result, the $957,000 carry-over balance from 2003 was used to set the $8.78 million general fund budget for the year.
  But through last week, income for the year is already up to $8 million Giesige said, above the year's estimate. He attributes that to the state's changes to the sales tax law that expanded the list of taxable goods.
  Also, through last week, Giesige said spending has already beat income to the fund by $400,000. It is typical about 95 percent of appropriations are actually spent each year.
  Mercer County Auditor Mark Giesige said the unspent general fund balance will likely be below $500,000 at the year's end. He said the exact amount of money received and spent in the general fund for 2004 will not be known for a few more weeks.
  If the year-ending balance continues to look not so bad, it could be attributed to the diligence of county department officials who trimmed 7 percent of their general fund budgets half-way through the year at the request of Giesige and the commissioners.
  All elected and appointed county officials also were asked in November to reduce their annual 2005 budget from the general fund 10 percent lower than 2004.
  "I'm trying to get our expenses to meet our income, so we don't have to keep relying on the carryover, which may not always be there," Giesige said Thursday.
  Commissioners will wrap-up talking to department heads on Tuesday, and appropriations will not be complete until at least mid-January.


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