Wednesday, Feb. 16


County goat holds up financial planning

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[FEB. 16, 2005]  The newest county board member, George Mitchell, called the new computer system a goat. Whether he meant it as saying that the system is being used as a scapegoat or that it is like a stubborn goat holding things up, it doesn't matter; either could apply. He gave both praise and criticism, interpreting the difficulties the county is having with the newly implemented system that is trying patience in trying times.

Delays in getting financial reports from each of the county departments are compounding anxieties in planning for the future. A bottom line for the current fiscal year that ends in November is expected to remain $800,000 in the black. However, this margin is so narrow that some payment delays are expected, as some revenues are not received until after the fiscal year ends.

County officials concerned that they may be forced to consider layoffs later this year are without a reliable gauge to measure the county's financial health at this time. In the past they have had to rely on the annual audit, which isn't ready until late in the fiscal year -- too late to do anything differently, board member Dale Voyles and finance chair Chuck Ruben have said.

One advantage of generating monthly reports from each department is that they will help assess current financial standing. However, several factors have not allowed those reports to be generated for this fiscal year yet. The delay has officials chomping at the bit.

The board is preparing to put a 0.5 percent public safety tax on the April 5 ballot for public approval. The sales tax will aid in creating revenue. If the measure does not pass, the board will need to find a way to cut expenses. Last month all department heads were asked to prepare a budget for 2006 with a 25 percent cut. It is hoped that 25 percent won't be necessary, but it is possible.

One finance committee member does not agree with looking at cuts just yet and focused on getting the computers to generate the monthly reports. "We're a quarter of the way into the new fiscal year," Dick Logan said. "We deserve to have those reports in front of us. Otherwise, we don't know what we're talking about."

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County coordinator Dewey Colter and Ruben explained the causes of the delays. Most significantly, the old system didn't mesh well with the new system and data did not carry over readily.

Another major influence developed during the changeover. The county chose an option where the departments were not uniform in their entries with what other departments are doing.

And lastly, the computer changeover took place at the same time as the start of the new fiscal year. This changeover is more of a change than the last system change and is taking longer to complete.

The reports are of major concern for the immediate year. Every year has the potential to play a little differently due to fluctuations in some revenues. Most variable are revenues from fees and costs associated with the law and court system.

However, it has been pointed out that there can also be unanticipated shortages of revenue. Last year a property owner refuted a significant tax payment and won. Enough shortages can have an impact.

Likewise, departments have been looking for ways to increase revenues, and those are helping the financial forecast.

Colter has been assisting the departments and trainers in getting through the difficulties and believes that the reports should be out soon, possibly today.

[Jan Youngquist]

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