Zweerink says careful budgeting now could prevent county layoffs later
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
County Commissioner Ricky Zweerink reviews budget data at Monday's commission meeting
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Dec. 28, 2009) — As the county commissioners prepared Monday to begin work on the 2010 budget, Western District Commissioner Ricky Zweerink warned that it’s important to have county officeholders submit budgets staying within 1 percent of last year’s budget, and if possible, to show no growth at all.
While union representatives have asked for a pay increase in the Road and Bridge Department, Zweerink said that probably won’t happen — and can’t, considering the county’s financial condition.
“My guys are just happy to have a job, to a man,” Zweerink said.
Eastern District Commissioner Bill Farnham was more optimistic.
“A 1 percent bump is virtually no growth. We all overspent on areas we didn’t expect, and we might as well assume the same budget next year as this year,” Farnham said. “I personally am hoping for 2 to 3 percent growth.”
While local media have been reporting large increases in revenues for some cities, especially Saint Robert but also Waynesville, County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer noted that the cities have revenue sources such as taxes on utilities that the county doesn’t have.
That shouldn’t deter the county from budgeting low while expecting additional growth beyond the budget, Farnham said.
“If you plan on 1 percent growth and you get more, that’s like finding a dollar on the sidewalk,” Farnham said.
Zweerink said he wasn’t so sure and urged caution, noting that a substantial part of the county’s budget depends on state funds and Missouri is facing serious economic problems that may force the legislators to cut the funds they provide to counties.
“As uncertain as things are, this is even worse than last year because we don’t know what is coming or going,” Zweerink said. “Yes, Fort Leonard Wood got a raise, but they can print money and we can’t.”
While expecting growth and noting that he’s already asked his foremen to come up with a “Christmas list or wish list” of things they can use that will be bought if money is available, Farnham agreed that the budget needs to be strict.
“I know all the officeholders are needing and wanting things … we need to stay with zero growth for all the officeholders,” Farnham said. “If we tell the officeholders to figure 1 percent increase or 2 percent of whatever it is, there’s going to be rumors going out through the employees that they’re only going to get a 1 or 2 percent raise and they’re going to be upset.”
Zweerink said good budgeting needs to focus on preventing layoffs, not adding expenses.
“I tell you, this is a split county. People up in the northern part just don’t see things the way people down south do,” Zweerink said. ”I look at this a little different from you guys; I’m trying to make sure we can hold on to our giuys. I don’t think you understand what’s coming down from Jeff City; they’re broke.”
Many of the county’s problems stem from a low tax rate, Farnham said, arguing that many years ago, county leaders didn’t plan for the future, kept a very low tax rate, and now the county doesn’t have the money to provide services demanded.
“They were doing what they thought was right when it may not have been,” said Presiding Commissioner Don McCulloch.