Monroe County to operate without a cushion for the rest of the year
Monroe County may have avoided one financial emergency but another could be on the horizon.
During a special meeting Wednesday, March 20 the Monroe County Commissioners rescinded a budget they approved only the day before in order to prevent budget cuts to county departments.
In order to achieve that, the county will have to operate most of the year without much of a safety net as the newly approved budget has only approximately $250,000 in unallocated funds.
The option of passing a new budget was presented after Commissioner Mick Schumacher was provided an estimate of how much the county would receive in ad valorem payments from the Rover Pipeline.
The estimated $450,000 expected to be received from Rover Pipeline offset a close to $200,000 shortfall in the county’s budget for the remainder of the year, which was the cause budget cuts to each county department.
While the commissioners agreed to rescind the budget and budget cuts in order to pass a new budget with the required cuts, it wasn’t unanimous.
Commissioner Tim Price wasn’t comfortable passing a budget with only $250,000 in unallocated funds.
“I can’t say I don’t have concerns,” Price said. “If we move forward, not make cuts and end up with $250,000, that’s not much cushion. If we have some sort of emergency, that’s not going to last long. I’m not sure what position that’s going to put us in with the state auditor. We could find ourselves looking at fiscal watch and we made no cuts.”
Despite Price’s reservations, the budget was passed by a 2-to-1 vote, with Schumacher and Commissioner Carl Davis approving the budget and Price voting against it.
Davis shared Price’s concerns, but hoped county departments will work with the commissioners. Price felt that if county departments fail to keep their budgets as low as possible there is little help the county can provide.
“Even though I approved the budget, I hope the people involved figure out a way to stay below their figures,” Davis said. “Everyone knows the position we’re in. We’re trying to work with everyone and we expect everyone to work with us to work through this.”
While the additional cuts have been removed from the approved budgets, some county departments offered voluntary cuts, which will still be effective.
One of those agencies was the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, which volunteered to cut 11 percent ($280,000) from its budget.
When Monroe County Sheriff Charles Black was informed about being expected to cut an additional 6 percent ($150,000) from his budget, he wasn’t happy.
“The thing is, we willingly made $280,000 cut because the county is financially stressed,” Black said. “We already trimmed the fat. There is no alternative (except lay-offs). There is no cushion. If we don’t take the lay-offs, we won’t survive.”
For Black the best alternative was to remove positions from security at the Monroe County Courthouse and the Monroe County Jail, as he felt he couldn’t potentially cut positions that would decrease the level of law enforcement provided to county residents.
While Black will likely not have to make any personnel reductions, the potential for problems still remains unaddressed.
One of those problems will be dealing with the advances required by the Monroe County Care Center.
The county only has $500,000 earmarked for advances through the year. The care center has already been advanced $298,000 through mid-March.
At that rate, Monroe County Auditor Pandora Neuhart said, the county’s $250,000 in unappropriated funds won’t last long.
“If you have gangrene on your body, you have no choice but to amputate,” Black said, referring to the county's budget problems. “You don’t let it fester and destroy the rest of your body. Decisions need to be made. It’s up to you guys (the commissioners).”
While the commissioners are well aware the care center continues to require advances from the county’s general fund in order to operate, and they see no reason to believe it will not continue to do so for the foreseeable future, they lack a general consensus on how to address the issue.
Schumacher continues to champion the facility, saying he spoke with Care Center Administrator Jessica Price, who informed him that several patients were interested in moving into the facility, but were hesitant to do so because of the questionable future of the facility.
For Schumacher, closing the facility outright is not an option.
“After investing $7 million (in the care center), to close it would cost $1.5 million (due on the loan for the facility),” Schumacher said. “There is unemployment to consider, sick time to consider.”
Closing the facility may not be an option, but continuing down the same path won’t work either, Price said.
“We’re not going to last if we keep going at this same rate,” Price said about the increasing number of advances to the care center. “We’ll be in the same situation in a few weeks or months.”
If another emergency arises, if the care center continues to require advances, Price said there likely won’t be another Rover Pipeline payment coming to bail the county out again.
What could have been a time of opportunity for the county due to the revenue generated from oil and gas operations in the county from ad valorem payments and increases in sales and property taxes, has not panned out as the commissioners would have hoped.
“This is one of the best windfalls the county has seen in its history,” Schumacher said of the influx of revenue from oil and gas operations in the county. “I don’t want to squander it.”
“It’s already squandered,” Neuhart replied. “It’s gone.”