Sedgwick County will be looking at significant cuts as it works to overcome a potential $9.5 million deficit in its 2013 budget.
Bill Buchanan, county manager, told the 5th District Advisory Board this past week that department heads have been asked to look for cuts across the board. They have been asked to tell the county what would be cut if 10 or 20 percent of their budget were eliminated.
Some cuts have been easy to identify, such as not filling positions and suspending a leadership development program. Others, such as a person who creates videos, could be identified for a cut.
If done, it would save the cost of a position, but would cost the county more in other departments, where daytime training is taped for use by shift employees. Without the video training, those employees are paid overtime wages to attend daytime training, Buchanan said.
Cuts which the county will consider during its budget process include:
• Eliminating 911 “call takers.” The county will examine how important their role is to the 911 dispatching system, with the assumption that eliminating the call takers will diminish the rate of calls the system can handle, Buchanan said. It could also impact the mobile EMS system currently being utilized.
• A storm water management system has been in the planning stages. It likely will be put on hold.
• The Judge Riddell Boys Ranch faces closing. The program has been in effect for 50 years and does change behaviors, Burchanan said. Under the program, recidivism is 50 percent. Without it the rate jumps to 80 percent.
However, the state pays less than the cost of the program. In addition, repair costs to the old building will run nearly $3 million. Building a new one would be more expensive.
“I think we’re going to end up closing that program,” Buchanan said.
• Both the zoo and Exploration Place will see budget reductions.
• The Extension Service may face cuts. The county spends nearly $1 million a year for a 30-employee program, which Buchanan compared to Johnson County with a $750,000 annual budget for its Extension program. Sedgwick County may have duplication of services, for example in nutrition programs by the Extension Service and other departments.
• The senior centers in the county may also face cuts in budgeting. Buchanan said funding for aging is geared for programs which help residents stay out of nursing homes.
“Senior centers are the furthest (of the programs) away from the nursing home,” he said.
The coming budget cuts are difficult, Buchanan and Commissioner Jim Skelton said.
“What is very sad and what we witnessed today were some hard decisions,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan said the county made cuts in the mill levy before the local economy took a downturn. In the past, most downturns turned around quickly, allowing local government to maintain revenues.
If the mill levy cuts had not been made, the county would not be facing coming program cuts, he said.
“It’s not an expenditure problem, it is a revenue problem,” he said.
Buchanan said the cuts gave him a $17 a year break on his county taxes. Advisory Board Member Lon Smith reiterated statements he made the month before, saying for $10 a year in tax on a $100,000 home the program cuts could be avoided.
“A lot of people had to sacrifice (in World War II) and they did that for the good of their communities and for the good of their countries,” he said. “You’re asking me to give up one trip to McDonald’s to save all these critical programs … I’m telling you as a citizen I’m willing to sacrifice. If everyone else isn’t, they’re being selfish.”
The advisory board talked at length about taxes and the fact that five of the top 10 employers in Sedgwick County are taxpayer-funded. Larry Gould, Derby resident and board member, said many of the things in local government programs are not a true role of government.
“So many of these things only affect 10 percent of the population,” he said. “We ask way too much of government … We force elected officials to line up on this side.”
Skelton noted there are many points of view on the board.
“I had a friend tell me you’re going to have to solve unlimited problems with limited resources,” Skelton said.
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