Sedgwick County ended 2010 about $8 million in the red as spending outpaced money coming in, a trend expected to continue this year.
Revenue came in at about $362 million last year compared with spending of about $370 million, deputy chief financial officer Troy Bruun told commissioners Wednesday. Those numbers do not include capital projects.
Last year was the first since 2003 that Sedgwick County was in the red. Its expenses were higher than revenue in 2002 and 2003, during the area's last major economic downturn.
"This is really a good news, bad news story," Commissioner Tim Norton said. The county was smart, he said, to create reserves back then, reserves that the county will now use to weather a down economy.
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"I'm proud that we made those decisions several years ago," he said. "I'm sad we're really going to have to chew on the budget this year."
Echoing his colleagues, Norton said the county will have to make difficult decisions in coming months while setting next year's budget.
Commissioners will begin the budget process next week with a retreat. The retreat will be 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Fire Station No. 32 at 7750 N. Wild West Drive, off I-135 south of the Kansas Pavilions complex.
In October, county management set August 2012 as the deadline for the county to "bend the curve" — change the way it operates. Bruun reiterated Wednesday that the county can't sustain an imbalance between revenue and spending.
The gap is expected to be about $14 million this year.
County Manager William Buchanan said in October that the county would take a "thoughtful, deliberate" approach to examining how the county operates, where it can cut and where it can't cut. So far, the county has not laid off or furloughed employees or cut core services. But cuts are expected in next year's budget.
Norton said Wednesday that the county doesn't want to be in a position to not have reserves to rely on for the next economic downturn.
He urged his fellow board members to continue to be "focused on the future but be concerned about the now."
Commissioner Richard Ranzau stressed his stance on cutting spending and debt, saying, "I would like to see this board be progressive on reviewing expenses."
"I'm very concerned about the future," Ranzau said.