Commissioners to discuss county's unbalanced budget

BALDWIN — The Lake County Board of Commissioners will host a special meeting to discuss possible solutions to the county's unbalanced budget for next year.

A significant amount — $1,024,000 — was needed to balance the budget. Several one-time measures were taken to reduce that amount to a more manageable $200,000, but many people, including County Administrator Tobi Lake, say this is not sustainable.

"We're more than $1 million short in our general fund," said Lake. "We have a current fund balance of $1,373,000 so there's no question we'll be okay for this coming year's budget, and hopefully we won't use the entire $1,024,000, but next year if we don't bring these numbers down we'll be losing money."

The hearing on the matter of the budget is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 3, in the commissioner's room at the Lake County Courthouse. The board and Lake will discuss possible solutions moving forward to increase county revenue, decrease costs and find alternate sources for funding.

Shelly Myers, the county clerk and who held the office of Chief Financial Officer until Lake was hired earlier this year, said the issue sounds more serious than it really is. Myers was the primary architect in the county's financial matters, including this year's budget. She is set to retire at the end of the month so those responsibilities have already been passed to Lake.

"We have about a $1 million deficit in the coming year, but this is typical," explained Myers. "At this point last year, we had a $1.24 million deficit in the budget and it was brought down to less than $200,000 by the end of the year. We cover this remaining $200,000 from our savings, which isn't ideal, but even with taking that money out, we are still putting more into our savings than taking out."

Some in the county believe more direct action needs to be taken. County Commissioner Dan Sloan believes continuing on this path without finding a permanent solution for the county's unbalanced budget is just asking for trouble in the future.

"These measures to bring the deficit down to under $200,000 are one-time only solutions," remarked Sloan. "Next year we're going to have to find different ways to counter this more than $1 million we're spending beyond our means each year. Eventually, it could catch up with us."

The budget is only an estimate of what the county will need next year, and although Lake County is still in the black, those running it want to ensure it stays that way.

"We need to get everyone in the same room and find a new solution for these problems," said Lake. "We're not going to find a solution overnight, but we need to clog the leak before we keep bailing water out of the boat. We're going to get through this year just fine, but we'll be running into more and more problems in the future if we don't make some changes."