County reaches balanced budget ahead of schedule

10/31/2012 12:00 AM

10/31/2012 11:30 PM

Through a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases, Sedgwick County has reached a balanced budget a year ahead of schedule, according to a report presented to county commissioners Wednesday.

In February of last year, county budget analysts had projected a $16.3 million shortfall to be covered from reserve funds this year. “We now project ending 2012 $900,000 in the black,” said Troy Bruun, deputy chief financial officer for the county.

Bruun’s report showed $9.5 million, or 5.3 percent in spending cuts from the third quarter of 2011 compared to the third quarter of this year. The biggest reduction came in wages, down $7.37 million, or 11.36 percent.

On the revenue side, property tax income to the county rose from $119.26 million to $120.67 million, a 1.18 percent change.

The county also saw significant increases from mortgage registration fees, $1.58 million, and gaming, $1.3 million. Sales tax revenue was up $820,000.

With a projected $7.3 million deficit in 2011, county commissioners had directed their staff to bring the budget into balance by 2013.

Next year’s budget is projected to run a narrow $300,000 surplus, including implementation of a service charge for members of the public who use credit cards to pay county bills, along with cuts to public works, the zoo, extension services, Exploration Place and Wichita Area Technical College.

More work will be needed to avoid a deficit in 2014, Bruun said.

Commissioners were delighted with the report.

“It’s good to hear that we are a year ahead of that challenge that we gave our staff to get to an even balanced budget,” said commission Chairman Tim Norton. “That’s good for the taxpayers and it’s good for this county commission.”

Commissioner Jim Skelton said the budget report debunks claims he heard at a forum for state legislative candidates on Tuesday.

“It was highly disappointing to me to hear some of the comments made by the candidates about local government and the practice where they would characterize us as spend, spend, spend, and other statements such as we need to live within our means and they have all the answers.

“What I think that is is a perpetuation of ignorance because this county here has cut $16 million in the last two years.”

Skelton said he wished candidates for state office would stick to state issues such as “the disaster in the motor vehicle system and how to help us recover delinquent taxes.”

He also suggested that state legislators and candidates should take lessons from the county about making difficult choices to cut the budget.

“We’re a small board; we’re five people,” he said. “I don’t have the opportunity to go hide out in a gang of other people and come out and perpetuate misinformation like this, so I find it pretty disgusting some of the misinformation out there and lack of understanding and ignorance. I think it’s about time for the people who don’t know what they’re talking about to get with the program and speak the truth.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527.

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