Public safety would lose 10 positions, including two sheriff’s patrol deputies, under the proposed fiscal year 2019-20 budget for Douglas County government.
The Douglas County Budget Committee will meet to consider the proposed budget in all-day sessions beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday and Friday at the Douglas County Courthouse. The 2019-20 budget calls for overall expenditures to increase from $144.6 million to $163.9 million, with $42.7 million in budgeted expenditures from the general fund.
It will draw down $9 million from the general fund reserve, though the loss to the reserve could be less if federal Secure Rural Schools payments were to be extended for another year. The budget anticipates about $42 million would be left in the reserves at the end of the year.
Most of the county departments have proposed budgets that will retain close to the same number of employees, with the net loss across all departments being 14.75 full time equivalents. The full time equivalent measure, or FTE, counts employees by the amount they work, so a half-time employee is 0.5 of an employee and a full-time employee is 1.
Even with the cuts, the overall cost of providing salary and benefits to the remaining employees will be more than was spent on personnel in the previous budget.
Public safety will absorb more than two-thirds of the position cuts. In addition to the two deputies, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office enforcement positions dropped would include a volunteer services coordinator, an investigations analyst and an accounting clerk. One of seven police records clerk positions would also be dropped. Four of the dropped positions would be from the corrections department, but the 9-1-1 staffing level would remain the same.
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said he doesn’t anticipate many layoffs if the budget is approved as proposed. He said seven of the cuts, including the two patrol deputies, would be made by not filling positions that were funded in previous years but are currently vacant. They are positions he hoped to refill, though.
“It’s going to have a pretty significant impact on our ability to provide services,” he said.
Hanlin said he believes 24/7 deputy patrols can be maintained under the proposed budget, but it could take longer for deputies to respond to calls for assistance. If multiple employees were out on leave at the same time, even 24/7 service could be in question.
“We’re going to work extremely hard not to lose that, but we’re right at the breaking point,” Hanlin said.
He said ultimately, cuts could cost the county more money if it attempts to reduce staffing. Since he can’t put a lone deputy out during the graveyard shift without backup, short staffing could mean deputies have to be on call. If they’re called out, the cost to pay their overtime could actually increase expenditures rather than reducing them, Hanlin said.
He said he understands that the county is in financial trouble, and that was why county commissioners asked him to make cuts. However, he remains hopeful the commissioners and the other members of the Douglas County Budget Committee will add back in enough funding that he won’t have to cut the positions.
Hanlin said he will ask the budget committee to authorize additional funds for public safety beyond what’s in the proposed budget.
The proposed 2019-20 budget is organized differently from previous years.
While all money from property taxes is ordinarily entirely dumped into the public safety budget, this year’s budget moves the numbers around a bit. First, the taxes will be put into the general fund, then $8,872,629 will be transferred from there to the public safety budget.
The property tax amount budgeted in 2018-19 though, was $9.1 million and the 2019-20 budget anticipates that amount will increase to $10.1 million. So public safety will get most, but not all, of the taxes. Public safety also will receive a bit less in road funds that formerly paid for some deputies.
Hanlin said public safety can’t sustain much more in the way of cuts, and it may be time for county residents to start the discussion about a public safety levy. But he said he feels more education needs to be done first so voters will understand how public safety is funded and why property taxes aren’t enough to foot the bill for those services.
Hanlin said while paying for government programs like education and roads is important, public safety is the most critical.
“If you have no public safety, no law and order, I think the rest of it is a moot point,” he said.