Dawson County is looking for ways to trim nearly $5 million from its 2009 operating budget to make up for a drop in revenue during the economic downturn.
“We’ve already made about $2.5 million in cuts, but we’ve got about $2.5 million more to go,” said Commission Chairman Mike Berg.
Berg, who reviewed the situation last week with county leaders and department heads, anticipates the county will remain “flat” over the next three years, with revenues at or below the 2008 level.
“I’ve never been in this situation where we didn’t have the money we needed to do what we needed,” he said.
To make up for the loss, County Manager Kevin Tanner said the county has made substantial cuts in various areas.
“We have several positions we’ve made the decision not to fill and cut back in all of our operating areas in costs,” he said. “We’re limiting training and travel and looking at ways to cut costs in telephones and vehicle maintenance.
“Anything that we can do to cut cost and still provide quality service for our citizens, we’re doing that.”
Voluntary furloughs have been discussed, although the county has not taken that step. County employees have been told not to expect cost of living increases for the next three years, Berg said.
Sheriff Billy Carlisle said he will do what it takes to operate on his 2008 budget for the next three years, though he does not like having to tell his 115 employees they won’t receive the raises.
“I’ve lost five officers since the first of the year to other counties, one who’s getting about $10,000 more a year,” he said.
Carlisle said it’s tough to compete with that.
“The real problem is that now I have to pay to get new officers trained,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of our training in house now, but a lot of it has to go outside, and that costs money. That’s hard when you’re trying to save.”
Carlisle hopes to be able to make up for some losses with a new inmate medical program that could save between $150,000 to 200,000. The program would bring in a part-time doctor and medical director to care for inmates, which Carlisle said is his largest expense aside from employee salaries.
“You’ve got to keep in mind that we could save that money, but if an inmate has a major medical condition, like a heart attack, and goes into the hospital, it could eat that savings up,” he said.
Tanner said the county is handling the economic situation as any household would.
“We live within our means,” he said. “We’re looking at ways to make that happen and doing everything we can to keep providing good, quality services to our citizens.”
E-mail Michele Hester at firstname.lastname@example.org.