Sedgwick County faces $2.4 million deficit next year as budget hearings begin

07/17/2014 7:12 AM

08/06/2014 12:16 PM

Sedgwick County faces a $2.4 million deficit next year, but leaders say they’ll work to cut spending to keep the government in the black.

Budget hearings for the county began Wednesday afternoon with a message from County Manager William Buchanan.

“The harsh reality is we have less money in our checkbook,” Buchanan told commissioners and department heads.

Revenue is flat, and expenses are up.

“We have one checkbook. It’s not our money. We have to act like it’s not,” Buchanan stressed.

The county has projected deficits the past few years but made cuts to end the year in a positive financial position.

For example, at the county’s 2011 budget retreat, officials estimated that there would be a $16 million deficit this year, but Chris Chronis, the chief financial officer, said the county expects to end this year with a surplus of $1.7 million.

Chronis noted that many of the county’s expenses are out of its control, including increases in utilities, food for inmates and postage.

“If we’re going to have inmates, we have to feed them,” he told commissioners. “If we’re going to have buildings, we have to turn the lights on.”

The county has projected it will spend $101,000 more next year on utilities, $206,000 more on food for inmates, $321,000 more for software and hardware maintenance and $28,000 more for postage. The county’s pension plan is estimated to cost $1.2 million more.

A 4 percent pool for raises is in play, as well as a plan to bring salaries more in line with private industry. Implementing recommendations from a job classification and compensation study could cost the county $2.5 million to $3 million.

Health insurance costs are expected to go up 10 percent, a growing cost most businesses face.

Departments have submitted $412,625,596 in base budgets for next year, Chronis said.

Commissioners also will consider more than $12.6 million in supplemental requests, including adding an EMS crew, increasing staffing at the Regional Forensic Science Center and adding staff in the district attorney’s office to handle child-in-need-of-care cases.

Departmental budget hearings continue through May 23. A complete schedule can be found at www.sedgwickcounty.org/finance/budget.asp.

Buchanan will present his recommended budget to commissioners at their weekly meeting July 16. Public hearings are scheduled for July 30 and August 7. Residents also will be able to comment online at www.sedgwickcounty.org after July 16. Commissioners will vote on a budget for next year Aug. 13.

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