Recession hits county where it hurts | ParkRecord.com

Recession hits county where it hurts

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Some county employees could lose their jobs if the government doesn’t tighten its belt, Summit County Councilman David Ure said.

With state government facing a $1 billion financial shortfall, the budget for health care is on the chopping block as Utah lawmakers meet in a 45-day general session on Capitol Hill.

"This is the thing that has made me the most uneasy of anything we have been discussing," said Ure, a former state representative. "This recession is not going to be a six-month or an eight-month deal. In order to save people’s jobs in July, we had better start to act now."

Critical programs for seniors like Meals on Wheels, for which Summit County depends on funding from the Legislature, could take a major hit, Ure said.

"A lot of the services and money that comes through the (state) health and human services department goes to the county to fund a lot of programs for senior citizens and their health concerns," Ure said in a telephone interview Friday. "There are a lot of areas where pass-through money is coming from the state to the county."

Utah lawmakers are looking to cut 7.5 percent from this year’s state budget because of rapidly declining revenue caused by a global economic meltdown that began hitting the state last spring, the Associated Press reported.

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Summit County officials should revisit their 2009 budget and possibly reduce expenditures to compensate for deep cuts this year on Capitol Hill, Ure said.

"I think we’re talking about a major enough dumping on us from the state that it will take reopening the budget," Ure said.

His said his major concern is making sure taxpayers are aware of the possible budget meltdown.

"I want everyone to know what we’re doing I think it should be discussed in an open meeting and I think it should start next week," Ure said. "We may either have to cut the programs at the county or we have to fund them ourselves."

The Legislature could cut an additional 15 percent from the state’s 2010 budget before the next fiscal year begins in July, Ure said.

"My vote is going to be that we not cut programs, that we find a way to fund them through the county. When you’re 80 years old and the only meals you’re getting is what comes to you from Meals on Wheels, I don’t have much of a heart, but I sure as heck can sympathize with that," Ure said.

But interim Summit County Manager Brian Bellamy said he doesn’t expect county employees to get laid off.

"We’re already doing some things in the county to rein in expenditures," Bellamy said, adding that the government is not hiring new employees. "If we lose people through attrition, we may or may not fill that position, depending on who it is."

Delaying major expenditures will help the county avoid layoffs, he said.

"We are delaying some purchases of vehicles. We do need them, but it’s easier not to purchase a truck than to lay off somebody," Bellamy said. "Our goal is that nobody loses their job."

At its meeting Wednesday the County Council will discuss the process for making adjustments to the 2009 budget.

"I think it’s a little premature to do this until we actually know what the Legislature is doing," Summit County Councilwoman Claudia McMullin said.

According to County Councilman Chris Robinson, "if we were to jump on it at the first of February, I think we would be jumping on it too quickly."

"This is a hot topic in March, rather than February," Robinson said.

Bellamy said he doesn’t believe lawmakers will cut funding for programs as essential as Meals on Wheels.

"There have been no decisions made at the Legislature at this time and factions of the Legislature are not in agreement about where they’re going," Bellamy said. "I don’t know how they can really cut Meals on Wheels. Anything’s possible, but in the realm of probabilities, it’s not probable that you are really going to take food out of the mouths of some of the elderly."