Commissioners delay work session to April 7, may plan for zero revenue increases
(March 20, 2020) The Worcester County government’s FY21 operating budget will take a hit from the global coronavirus pandemic, but exactly how much may not be clear for several weeks or months. Though some suggested creating a backup flat budget, the commissioners decided on Tuesday to wait until their next budget meeting on April 7.
Based on current tax rates, the county estimates the general fund revenues at almost $210 million. The requested general fund operating expenditures, however, add up to $221 million, leaving a variance of $11 million. This estimated revenue is an increase of $8.6 million, or four percent, from the current fiscal year.
This does not account for possible cuts from the state budget that may result in reduced tax receipts from bars, restaurants and other businesses that have closed to combat the spread of COVID-19.
County Commissioners Chip Bertino and Jim Bunting moved to outline a flat budget based on last year to prepare for the financial effects of the coronavirus.
“I’d much rather be prepared and be overly conservative than to work on something that we might not be able to fulfill,” Bertino said. “We’re already with an $11 million shortfall and that’s with an estimated revenue increase over the last year.”
Bunting further suggested to subject the Worcester County Board of Education only to the maintenance of effort and forced escalation. The board’s maintenance of effort requires an increase of $2.9 million in county funding for FY21.
However, Harold Higgins, chief administrative officer, advised waiting until the county knows more about the effects of the pandemic before making any decisions or alternate plans.
“Once the smoke clears, there could be alternatives that aren’t available [now],” Higgins said.
Commissioner Ted Elder disagreed.
“The best plans are made beforehand and not afterwards in trying to correct the shortfalls after it’s too late,” Elder said.
Bertino added that it was not a barebones budget, as it had a lot of “wants” in addition to “needs.”
“We’re going to get into April, May, not knowing exactly how this is going to pan out,” Bertino said. “It may not even be over. I would just like to have a fallback position starting now as opposed to trying to recreate it when we’re getting closer to deciding on the budget.”
Higgins added another concern, asking what the commissioners defined as a “flat budget,” especially when considering the negotiations the board of education previously made for staff raises.
Commissioner Bud Church said the county couldn’t plan ahead without knowing what’s ahead.
“I think the next 30 days are going to be very important,” Church said. “There’s too much uncertainty in the world.”
Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic said that he thought it would be a mistake to tie the county to a number that day.
“My theory has always been not to budget to a number but to needs and I stick with that today,” Mitrecic said.
The motion to prepare for a flat budget failed, Bertino, Bunting and Elder in favor and commissioners Joshua Nordstrom, Church, Diana Purnell and Mitrecic in opposition.
Instead, commissioners will wait until the next budget work session, which was originally scheduled for Tuesday, March 31 to plan for the financial impacts of the coronavirus. It was rescheduled to Tuesday, April 7 at 9 a.m. at the Worcester County Government Center to comply with the federal government’s recommendation of avoiding gatherings of 10 people or more.