The Douglas County Board of Commissioners will hold a virtual budget retreat over the next two days where commissioners are expected to weigh in on cuts that can be made for a leaner budget for 2021.
Commission Chairman Romona Jackson Jones said when the BOC raised property taxes 27.8% two months ago to makeup a 2020 budget shortfall that it would adopt a tighter and leaner budget for the following year.
While no decisions are voted on at the annual budget retreat, discussions at the budget retreat play a big role in what is included and not included in the county budget commissioners will adopt in December.
“I’m hoping we take a more realistic approach to this budget,” said Commissioner Henry Mitchell, who voted against last year’s budget. “We have to look at realistic numbers.”
Commissioner Ann Jones Guider said she hopes her colleagues finally heed the advice of their financial advisers and cut “the fluff” out of the upcoming budget proposal.
Like Mitchell, Guider voted against the 2020 budget and both gave a thumbs down to an August property tax increase to make up for the budget shortfall.
“The only way to get down to where we need to be is to cut expenses,” Guider said. “I don’t know what to expect. We’ve got to cut some of the fluff out of the budget. If we don’t do it, we will just be spitting in the wind, and it will come back to bite us.”
During the property tax rate discussions, the county’s financial advisor said that the county would have probably had a shortfall regardless of the current coronavirus pandemic.
Indeed the county felt the pinch between the overestimated budget and the pandemic, which shut down several businesses and travel.
In addition to the 27.8% property tax increase, the county had to furlough some workers and eliminate some positions.
The BOC has consistently come under criticism from taxpayers over its spending habits.
Commissioners typically go in to the budget retreat pushing for things that will benefit their respective districts.
A new senior center and fire station will have to be factored into the budget. The county will not have revenue from the school board to factor in since the system has started its own police force.
With virus starting to spike again, and a new presidential administration, Mitchell said all things must be factored in when discussing the budget.
Although a vaccine is expected to rollout soon, Mitchell said it is still looking at “six to nine months” of lost income to start the year.
“There are a lot of businesses that are struggling,” he said. “It might be later into the next year before we see some recovery. We are hoping that they send out more stimulus money.”
The BOC adopted a resolution to cap the upcoming budget at this year’s revenue rate.
“The 2021 budget will be tight and lean,” BOC chairman Romona Jackson Jones said during the August vote to raise property taxes. “We have to double down on our expenses. This will require us to be disciplined with the 2021 budget.”
Mitchell said putting a cap on spending was a smart move by the board.
“We have got to control the spending,” he said. “It is important to understand revenue and expenses. We have to tie our hands.”
While there is no public comment allowed during the budget retreat, citizens can watch it via MS Teams with the Conference Call-in#: 229-302-4628 and the Conference ID: 575 127 641#
The retreat is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday and from 9 am. until approximately 1 p.m. on Friday.