John Ross Ferrara / Wednesday, June 9 @ 6:15 p.m. / Local Government
Curry Board of Commissioners Initially Rejects Adopting Previously Approved Budget at Today’s Tense Hearing, Rescinds Rejection, Adopts Budget After All
The Curry County Board of Commissioners voted to adopt the county budget for the next fiscal year at today’s budget hearing after a grueling hour-and-a-half discussion that fueled tempers between commissioners and department heads alike.
Much of the discussion centered around $2.2 million in County Road Department reserves that would be used to chip away at the County’s annual budget shortfall. County Roadmaster Richard Christensen spoke at the meeting — as he has in years past — warning board members that the Road Department’s reserves will be depleted in four years if the County continues to use them to balance the budget.
“Nothing has changed and we're at a point now that if we keep doing this we're going to be out of money in 4 years,” Christensen told the Outpost. “I'm going to have to cut back the department by 60 percent. The roads department will never be able to recover.”
Christensen added that the reserves also fund emergency road projects that are later reimbursed by federal and state agencies. Without the initial funds, these projects can’t be completed.
Commissioner Court Boice began discussions by affirming that he would not vote to adopt the budget at today’s hearing on the grounds that the budget continued to dip into the Road Department’s reserves.
“Today I'm not going to support, nor am I in favor of passing this budget as is,” Boice said during the meeting. “In fact, I'm not even close.”
Commissioner Christopher Paasch was outwardly perturbed by Boice’s stance, on the grounds that the board had previously approved the budget leading up to today’s hearing.
“Our budget was dealt with a month ago, and [problems] could have and should have been talked about at prior meetings,” Paasch said. “If you were in disagreement with the Budget Committee, why weren't all these things brought up in front of the Budget Committee to address in front of the group of professionals that were put in place to discuss and arrive at a budget. When the chair of the budget committee said ‘do we agree on this budget?’ We agreed.”
Director of County Operations Brad Rueckert also expressed concerns about attempting to rework an already tight budget this late in the process.
“Right now, we are part way through June,” Rueckert said. “We would be scrambling to get heranings notices in a timely and lawful manner. We already cut $600,000 from the budget. How much more do we expect to cut? This budget isn't going to be fixed by cutting, it’s only going to be fixed by looking at additional revenue sources. That’s the good thing about a budget, it’s an estimation of your revenus, your expenditures and it can change depending on what this board decides to do over the next 12 months."
Curry County Sheriff John Ward and Cpt. Phil McDonald also spoke at the meeting after the Sheriff’s Department’s proposed $2.2 million usage of Road Department reserves was brought into question.
“I’ve been in budgets for years, not just in this county, but in other counties, and I have never seen anything like this,” Cpt. McDonald said. “We had a budget, the county approved the budget, now when it comes to adoption, all of a sudden we're going to throw all that work out the window and we’re going to start all over again. This is something that we all need to work on, but trying to slash services at the final minute doesn’t do it.”
Councilman John Herzog was also initially against adopting the present budget — to the extent that the board voted down the budget 2-1 during the meeting. However, after multiple county employees, including Roadmaster Richard Christensen, expressed that the easiest solution would be to adopt the budget and reject spending and create new funding over the course of the next fiscal year, Herzog changed his opinion and the board rescinded it’s initial vote.
On second vote, Commissioners Paasch and Herzog both voted to adopt the budget, with Chair Boice dissenting.
“We were told two years ago that a huge chunk was coming out of the Roads fund because we had to pay for some things and at the end of the year last year, we had a balanced budget,” Paasch said. “Because of COVID, now we’ve had some shortages and I believe this year is somewhat of an anomaly. If it were to continue, absolutely, we need to start making cuts. But I think making cuts now is premature and I would like to see this budget get adopted.”