By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Seward County officials have seen a continuing decline in revenues such as sales tax as well as state funding. A decrease in valuation is also projected for the county’s 2011 budget year.
The county commission took steps Monday to limit the damage from those numbers. The board first passed a resolution implementing a hiring freeze for the county.
County administrator Mary Bloomer said, however, the resolution does allow for departments in dire need to come before the commission to present their case.
“It also has the exemption of the attorney’s office, volunteers for the Seward County Fire Department, emergency personnel for the Emergency Medical Services, the sheriff’s department and the Seward County Landfill,” she said. “This is until such time that this resolution is amended or rescinded.”
Commissioners voted 4-0 with chairman Joyce Hibler absent to pass that resolution. The board would later vote unanimously to approve a letter drafted by Bloomer to be provided to elected officials and department heads.
The letter requested that only necessary expenditures be allowed for the remainder of the 2010 budget and 2011. It also stated the county will cut the remainder of travel and training and miscellaneous spending for 2010, and the same will be done for 2011.
The letter likewise said the critical review of expenditures extends not only to traditional departmental expenditures but also those in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan for both budgeted years.
“Because of the trickle effect of the continued loss of revenue for 2011, only essential functions of the department are to be allowed for the 2011 budget as well,” the letter read. “As a result, the board decreased all contractual and commodities budget requests by 15 percent. The proposed 2.4 percent merit increase in the personal services line was also cut.”
Bloomer said the county attorney’s office had made a request to hire three additional staff, an item which was previously budgeted for, but commissioner C.J. Wettstein said this could send the wrong message to department heads.
“I’m actually concerned about adding additional staff in 2011,” he said. “We’re talking about a hiring freeze, and all of a sudden, we’re hiring three additional staff in the county attorney’s office. The numbers since 2005 really haven’t increased that much.”
Wettstein suggested re-examining budget numbers before a public hearing, which the board later set for 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 16.
“I think we actually ought to have another meeting to look at everything just to discuss a final deal on our budget to see if everything looks OK before we have a public hearing on it and see the final numbers,” he said.
A work session to do just that has been set for next Monday. That work session will take place following another one, which starts at 5 p.m. in the commission chambers, for Juvenile Correction and Prevention Services.
Prior to the Aug. 16 hearing, two resolutions will be prepared, including:
o A resolution regarding Seward County attesting to an increase in tax revenues; and
o A resolution regarding rural fire attesting to an increase in tax revenues.
Bloomer’s letter said the steps taken by the county has optimism about the situation.
“When times are tough, we must all pull together to do what we have to do,” it said. “We appreciate all that you do and know that eventually, the economy will stabilize and the revenue stream and valuation will take an upward turn.”