Summit County looks to cut $5 million or more as crisis deepens
Summit County approved a $61.4 million operating budget in December and four months later is looking to cut $5 million from it or more as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate the local economy.
County councilors Wednesday advised staff that speed might help increase savings and that certain, less controversial steps could be taken as soon as April 15. The bulk of the first $2.9 million in proposed cuts come from planned raises for employees and contributions to fund balances.
But several councilors indicated the cuts might have to be higher than staff’s recommended range of $3.5 million to $4.2 million while acknowledging the lack of information they have to make firm decisions about the long-term budget impacts.
“This whole conversation is tea leaves,” Councilor Roger Armstrong said. “We have absolutely no idea what this is going to look like, we have no metrics yet that inform us as to when we start rolling back some of these restrictions (that) have been placed, and on what industries, and at what rate. … Throwing a dart at $5 million, that’s fine.”
The council’s upcoming agenda shows the first of what is expected to be at least two budget amendments aimed at reconciling a tremendous revenue shortfall, largely in areas of sales tax, as the area’s tourism-based economy is expected to remain stagnant for at least the next several weeks.
Councilor Kim Carson said she is more worried about underestimating necessary cuts than overestimating them, an opinion that appeared to receive support from her fellow councilors as well as County Manager Tom Fisher. The consensus seemed to be that it would be easier to reinstate programs that are cut than scramble to keep cutting if the fiscal situation worsens.
Councilor Chris Robinson suggested that the first cuts outlined by staff last week should be enacted as soon as possible. Those include $1 million in savings achieved through a hiring freeze for non-essential workers and cutting a planned merit raise for staff, $100,000 from a 401(k) matching program, deferring facility projects for another $100,000 in savings and cutting $750,000 from planned contributions to fund balances, the county’s way of saving for a rainy day.
“I think that you should look at the budget holistically, with no sacred cows, and come back with a more austere plan that … might be $4.5 million or $5 million that we can review,” Robinson told staffers at the meeting.
Fisher has said laying off or furloughing employees is a last resort and indicated that a member of the County Attorney’s Office is poring over recent federal stimulus legislation to find potential funding sources.
County finance officer Matt Leavitt wrote in a report prepared for Wednesday’s meeting that the county’s funds have balances of roughly $16.3 million that can be accessed to maintain essential programs, but he has cautioned against using a one-time revenue source to pay for ongoing costs, especially with the duration of the crisis unknown.
Officials are advocating acting quickly where the action is known to avoid the potential of an April payment for a project that might be cut eventually and to minimize the amount of time the county pays for a program it might not continue.
Leavitt indicated one of the largest unknown areas is that of intergovernmental revenue, a category that includes grants from the state and federal government. The Health Department, for example, receives the majority of its funding from these sources, amounting to millions of dollars.
The county’s policy has been to cut a program if it doesn’t receive the grant that had funded it, but officials indicated that would be more complicated with matters affecting public health.
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