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Berrien County could face nearly $2 million shortfall in 2012

Published 10:36pm Thursday, July 14, 2011

ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County could be facing a nearly $2 million budget shortfall in 2012, according to budget projections by County Administrator Bill Wolf.
Wolf gave a presentation of the 2012 preliminary budget to Berrien County commissioners Thursday. He projected general fund revenues to be at $50.8 million and expenditures to be at $52.7 million, leaving a $1.9 million gap.
“I hope I’m wrong (about projected revenues),” Wolf said. “I hope it comes in at $52 million… These are very much preliminary numbers.”
One factor that is still very much up in the air is state revenue sharing. Wolf said the state’s current projected payment to the county is $2.75 million, a 25 percent reduction from 2011.
“It’s a big chunk of change we simply won’t have next year,” he said.
Property taxable values should hold steady with Wolf projecting a 1.07 percent increase in real property taxable value and a 0.47 percent decrease personal property taxable value.
It’s Wolf’s goal to not touch the fund balance, which currently stands at $14.9 million. The county hasn’t dipped into the fund balance at all in the past decade, but Wolf wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility in 2012.
“With all the challenges, we’ve been fairly successful in putting a little away every year,” Wolf said in regard to the fund balance.
Looking at projected expenditures, Wolf expects employee salaries to increase by $480,000 after step increases. But Wolf reminded the board that the county has decreased spending by cutting 90 positions since 2002.
“And we will continue to cut positions when we can, but they are getting harder and harder to find,” Wolf said.
Given the budget crunch for 2012, Wolf is asking department heads to reduce 2012 non-salary related expenditures to the 2010 budget level. He also said there is no immediate plan for a salary increases for appointed and non-union employees.
Another way of filling the shortfall could be to not fill some of the 23 funded but unfilled positions in the county.
Wolf also mentioned it has been difficult thus far to stay within the 2011 budget, given the high fuel prices, increased overtime and increased inmate medical costs. But he said he expects there to be sufficient unallocated funds in the contingency fund to cover it.
Budgets for 2012 are due from departments on Aug. 12.

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