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Budget is the tightest in decades

Summit County’s longtime auditor on Tuesday said the county government faces its tightest financial situation in decades, a scenario that he said will force cuts in spending and complicate the upcoming budget negotiations.

"This is the worst that we have seen the budget in 22 years. It’s the worst we’ve seen it simply because of the developments that are on standby," Summit County Auditor Blake Frazier said in a telephone interview. "There is nobody building homes and there are no commercial businesses. Contractors, builders and those types of people, at this point in time, are really struggling and that’s going to stay probably for another year."

Budget talks in Coalville began Monday and County Commissioner Bob Richer insists he will not vote to increase taxes in 2009.

"There is more of a concern as to what the winter season holds for all of us in terms of sales-tax revenues," Richer said in an interview. "We’ve asked our departments to cut back and we’ve instituted a freeze on our hiring. Hopefully we don’t have to increase taxes at any point in the future and hopefully if there is a downturn it will be short-lived."

Community Development Director Don Sargent said he will not consider filling the vacant planning director post in his office until 2010.

"We’re off two positions," Sargent said.

And next year Summit County will likely hire no new employees.

"We have asked all departments to cut just as much as they can cut out of their budgets," Frazier said.

But all county employees will receive a slight raise based on cost of living, he added.

"The ’09 budget will probably come in right about $46.5 million," Frazier said. "That’s what we’re projecting revenues to be."

The budget for 2008 was about $51 million, which included the $8 million realignment of Landmark Drive, he explained.

"We cut a lot of travel and training, and if there were programs that were going to start in ’09, some of them have been delayed," Frazier said, adding that some department heads will do without new equipment. "We’re also looking currently at take-home vehicles and we’re going to have to reassess that because it is a big expense."

Many county employees commute to work in vehicles owned by taxpayers, he said.

"I don’t see any reason to have a take-home vehicle unless it is for an essential service," Summit County Treasurer Glen Thompson said Tuesday.

The county allows Sheriff’s Office deputies to take patrol cruisers home at night so they can be available to respond quickly in an emergency.

But the use of take-home vehicles by other departments should be scrutinized, Thompson said.

"It is important to the taxpayer that we take a hard look at that each year to know whether it’s really needed or not," Thompson said.

Meanwhile, revenues from sales and property taxes in the county are holding steady as the national economy dips into recession, Frazier said.

"Our sales tax hasn’t dipped like the Wasatch Front," Frazier said. "I think you’re seeing more people staying in Summit County shopping than going to the Wasatch Front because of the price of gas."

The economy in Summit County also has not seen a spike in unemployment, Frazier said.

"The things that have really decreased are areas tied to the building industry," Frazier said. "It’s a show of what could happen and we better take heed."


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