Cass County expecting significant general fund shortfalls

CASSOPOLIS — Budgeting was on the brain Thursday evening in Cass County.

During the Cass County Board of Commissioners meeting, which was hosted over Zoom, commissioners heard from Administrator Jeff Carmen and Finance Director Becky Moore regarding the county’s 2021-2022 fiscal year budget. Due to COVID-19 and expected losses in revenue, Carmen said the county is looking at all areas to consider where cost savings can be made.

“We are looking at everything,” Carmen said. “We are looking at every interaction we have with the public. The county owns some surplus properties that are not necessarily productive for us. This is a lot of looking forward and drawing on the immediate lessons of the past five months.”

The budget presented to commissioners Thursday predicted a general fund shortfall of $590,000 for fiscal year 2021 and a $670,000 for fiscal year 2022. According to a budget document presented to the board of commissioners, the expected shortfall is due to uncertainties with both tax revenue and state and federal revenue sharing.

“I’ve worked on a lot of county budgets, and this has by far been the most difficult,” Moore said. “In the past few months, there has been a shift. What we once thought our needs were are not our needs today. It’s been ever-changing. Every time we thought we had a number in place, that number would end up being different than we had first assumed.”

“Never before, in any budget we have worked on, has it been subject to incoming information that would change the assumptions and projects we have made,” Carmen added. “We have adapted weekly. It is a highly fluid moment.”

While Carmen said there is enough in the fund balance to cover the shortfall for the time being, it is not a long-term solution.

“We must find ways of changing our business model, as we cannot operate into the future budgeting shortfalls,” Carmen and Moore wrote in a summary of the budget presented to the board. “Over the years, many special revenue funds have been established, most by legislative directive. We need to intensely examine each of these funds and determine if there is surplus available to better fund and manage department-level decisions.”

A budget hearing will be hosted at the next Cass County Board of Commissioners meeting on Sept. 17. At that time, Carmen said committees of commissioners would be formed to look at different budget aspects.

Throughout the budget process, Carmen said there is an opportunity for the county, the city, the villages and the townships of Cass County and beyond to work together to look toward the future and find processes that best suit the needs of Cass County and its residents.

“It’s not just us,” he said. “It is the state. It’s everyone in public service. We are called to cooperate and work together and find ways to leverage one’s knowledge and experience.”

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