County government tightens its belt | ParkRecord.com

County government tightens its belt

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

With tax revenue in decline, interim Summit County Manager Brian Bellamy has asked supervisors under him to stop buying snacks and meals for their employees.

"We understand sometimes they might need to buy a business lunch, but that’s about nil anymore," Bellamy said. "We’re paring all the other stuff back It’s part of a constant, ongoing process of where we can save more money."

Having experienced strong growth for more than a decade, tax coffers at the County Courthouse are undergoing some unfamiliar belt-tightening.

Since sales-tax revenue in the county hasn’t increased for about two years many departments must cut back now to avoid worker layoffs.

"For 2008 and 2009 we are not seeing any growth," Summit County Auditor Blake Frazier said. "We’re essentially sitting at 2007 levels."

Building permits, engineering and planning fees generated about $1.7 million for the county in 2007.

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"In ’08, the building permits and plan-check fees dropped off to about $800,000, almost in half," Frazier said.

"And the first two months of ’09 have been very slow."

If construction activity does not increase employees in departments related to planning and building could lose their jobs, he warned.

"We’re trying not to lay people off, but it becomes a major drain on the county budget," Frazier said. "You don’t want to do that. Fortunately, so far we’ve had a couple, three people in those areas who have left and we just haven’t filled those positions."

Overall, sales-tax revenue in the first quarter of 2009 was off about 19 percent from the year before, said Matt Leavitt, a Summit County auditor.

Transient room tax, generated by lodging receipts, was down 32 percent in the first three months of 2009 when compared to the same time last year, Leavitt said.

Restaurant Tax, which is levied on prepared food, generated about $450,000 in the first quarter of 2009, a roughly 10-percent decrease from a year ago.

"Just speculating from my end, you’re getting people coming up to Park City for dinner who are not renting rooms," Leavitt said.

Non-profit groups already in dire financial straits will not likely see much relief this year from Recreation, Arts and Parks Tax revenue, which was down $80,000 in the first quarter when compared with the first three months of 2008.

"This is not a tax that really affects the programs the county does," Leavitt said. "It would affect those nonprofits."

Meanwhile, a hiring freeze at the County Courthouse means only essential positions will be filled when there is turnover.

"Others, we’re not filling at this time," Bellamy said.

Fewer seasonal employees will also be hired this summer to work in Public Works and the Summit County Health Department, he said.

The Community Development Department and Summit County Attorney’s Office will also pay fewer interns and temporary clerks, Bellamy stressed.

"Right now, we’re cross-training people," he said.

To avoid layoffs, employees in slower departments might be assigned to different jobs.

"We’re watching those dollars," Bellamy said. "Our goal is that people don’t lose their jobs."

Revenue from property tax is stable and Bellamy said these cost-cutting measures could keep the county in the black until cash registers start to ring.

"We’re being very careful with our purchases," Bellamy said.

Some employees are making do with worn vehicles until sales pick up.

The county began cutting back in January hoping no essential services would fall by the wayside in 2009, he said.

"We were not doing purchases in January that we could delay," Bellamy said.