Summit County to decide on $60M budget in coming weeks
If you go
What: Summit County budget public hearings
When: 6 p.m. Wednesdays Dec. 4 and Dec. 11
Where: Dec. 4: Sheldon Richins Building, 1885 Ute Blvd. Dec. 11: Summit County Courthouse, 60 N. Main St., Coalville
Budget season in Summit County means almost double the meetings for the County Council, presentations from department heads and feverish typing from the back of the council chambers from finance officer Matt Leavitt as he bounces between spreadsheets.
The County Council will hold public hearings Dec. 4 and Dec. 11 for the budgets it oversees, including its own and those of subsidiary groups like the Mountain Regional Water District and Snyderville Basin Recreation District.
County Manager Tom Fisher has put forward a $60.8 million proposed 2020 budget, which would be a $5.1 million increase over last year’s budget but about $8 million less than what was requested by department heads.
The bulk of that increase — $2.9 million — comes from federal and state grants to the Summit County Health Department in the mental wellness and substance abuse divisions, Leavitt has said.
The proposed budget also includes the equivalent of five new full-time employees (FTEs) — actually seven positions, but some increased from part-time roles. Some of the costs would be partially or completely offset by fees and personnel restructuring.
That has sparked a debate about the relative merits of hiring full-time staff versus contractors. Council Chair Roger Armstrong has advocated the latter where possible, touting the potential cost savings like not having to pay benefits, the likelihood of a contractor being able to jump in right away rather than needing months to get up to speed and the difficulty of letting people go for budgetary reasons once they’ve been hired.
“I just want to be careful we’re not building a new bureaucracy,” Armstrong said at a recent meeting. “Adding the FTEs or adding bodies is necessarily the kind of stuff that puts us on a perpetual upward path for expenses. Once you put those into place — the hardest thing for me to do just as a human being with a conscience is to eliminate jobs.”
One example he cited is in a potential restructuring of the recorder’s office. Rather than add an employee, he wondered whether it would be beneficial to give a consultant the task of developing new systems, something he estimated might take a year or two. Once that job’s done, the contract could be terminated, whereas it would be more difficult to fire a full-time employee that is no longer needed.
The county has about 320 employees, according to Leavitt’s presentation, a number that has increased in recent years, but not as quickly as the county’s population has.
Armstrong has said the budget process is the means by which the county sets its priorities. He and other councilors have appeared to support Fisher’s stated priority of investing in fund balances, a sort of insurance policy so the county has the money and flexibility to deal with another recession, for example.
County Councilor Kim Carson said the fund balances have been decimated in recent years, leaving the county in the position of having to replenish its rainy day funds. Fisher’s budget did not hit its target $900,000 investment in fund balances, but the budget has yet to be finalized.
The manager’s recommended budget also includes a 2% cost-of-living increase and a possible 3% merit raise for employees and a new program to partially match 401(k) spending.
The new positions contemplated for 2020 include increasing the hours of a senior services administrator from part-time to full-time, a stormwater inspector, a behavioral health budget manager, a mapping technology coordinator, a public works weed-enforcement officer, a working inmate crew lead in the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, and a restructuring of the county’s communications and public engagement office.
Three staffing changes Fisher mentioned that he did not recommend were a part-time evidence tech in the Sheriff’s Office, bringing the hours of the Justice Court prosecutor from part-time to full-time and adding another appraiser.
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