San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 19th, 2009
Hays County projects budget shortfall

The Hays County Courthouse. File photo.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) told the commissioners court last week that the county is projecting a budget shortfall of just more than $1.7 million.

About $750,000 is revenue shortfalls within discrete departments and offices. More than half of the shortfall, about $950,000, represents a drop in interest income from the county’s deposits.

“That’s the largest single place,” Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) said at last week’s commissioners court meeting. “Interest rates have just fallen through the bottom, and so we’re not earning the interest that we were on our reserve funds.”

Though Sumter said, “We do have a revenue shortfall this year,” Barton argued that citizens shouldn’t be too alarmed.

Said Barton, “When you say there’s a shortfall, I guess what I want to clarify for the record and for people in attendance — and for the press, for that matter — is that we’re talking about shortfall that’s in individual budgets and shortfall in some projections. But we are not in the place, as many governments are, right now, where we need to cut staff or stop programs. We’re short on revenue, and that’s going to be a problem, particularly next year. But there are other places where we’ve over-budgeted and we’ve got plenty of money … We have to shift some funds around.”

Barton said sales tax revenue is higher than anticipated, meaning the county will have funds left at the end of the year to roll over into next year’s budget. County sales tax revenue is $100,000 higher than originally predicted.

Hays County Auditor Bill Herzog said projected shortfalls are being experienced in other Texas counties.

“Well, there’s no crisis, that’s for sure,” said Herzog. “There’s just some areas of concern, but we have plenty of reserves.”

Revenue shortfalls totaling $310,000 are predicted across the five Justice of the Peace (JP) precinct offices, despite steady yearly increases in the fines and fees charged by JPs.

“None of us can figure out why,” Barton said. “In a way, this is a good thing. But you have to budget a number there. Is it because the economy is bad and people can’t afford to get a speeding ticket, so they’re driving more carefully, or is it that we’ve got more law officers out on the street? Because we did add some this time … Often you would say that’s going to (result in) more tickets, but maybe (it is a) deterrent (that) causes people to do less.”

Other areas in which revenue shortfalls are projected include:

-Health Department Permits – $170,000
-Buda Law Enforcement – $220,049
-District Court – $49,000
-District Clerk – $15,000
-Constables – $100,000

The county’s budget shortfall could be knocking on the door of $2 million, but, in the panic of high fuel prices during last summer’s budget season, the county over-budgeted for fuel. Sumter revealed last week that the county overestimated by $225,500 the amount of money needed for fuel this budget year.

“As we were going through the budget, we realized that last year, when we did the fuel estimation for each department, it was over $4 a gallon of gas,” Sumter said.

After some discussion, commissioners court members voted unanimously in favor of putting the $225,500 in a county-wide fuel budget line item rather than allow county department heads to use it for purposes other than fuel.

Said Barton, “I think we clearly don’t want people moving around their fuel savings and saying, ‘Hey, I can buy new cars this budget year because I got all this fuel savings.’ We want to put the kibosh on that. But before we make any broad decisions, I would want to see context. We have a lot of unfilled personnel, you know. We usually we take that money and roll it back into employee pay, but, this year, maybe we can’t afford to do that. We do have some places we can go to look in the budget.”

Herzog said commissioners court members will soon be asked to approve more money for “trash hauling” for the Hays County transfer station. In light of the county’s present struggle to keep its jail up to state standard, commissioners also will be asked to free more funds to house prisoners in other counties.

In addition to the $225,000 fuel budget surplus in the county’s general budget, the county’s Road and Bridge Department has $160,000 in projected fuel savings that are accounted separately. Those funds will not be allocated to the county-wide fuel line item.

Sumter said the commissioners court may be asked to approve some of the $160,000 for use in covering non-fuel-related costs, such as additional equipment for the Road and Bridge Department.

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