Big changes coming to Platte County government budget

Big changes are coming to the Platte County budget, although the final impact — including potential layoffs of county employees — will not be made clear until a public hearing scheduled for next week.

Platte County commissioners, including newly-sworn-in district commissioners Dagmar Wood and John Elliott, are working to address a $1 million “hole” in the approximately $100 million county budget. Because two new commissioners were elected in November, the county has an extended deadline of until Monday, Jan. 30 to approve the county budget.

The public hearing on the county budget is scheduled for 10 a.m. that day, at which time the commissioners will present a budget promising “substantial changes” from the budget document currently posted on the Platte County website. 

Last week, commissioners submitted their proposed changes to the office of Platte County auditor Kevin Robinson to be reconciled with the preliminary budget document he presented in November. Initially, the budget document was fairly in line with the previous year’s budget, although commissioners cut Robinson’s proposed 2.5 percent cost of living raise for employees.

Robinson said he takes ownership of what happened next. 

As the complex databases making up the county budget were updated, it became apparent that in his recommended budget Robinson didn’t account for the approximately $1 million lease payment for the county’s federally-mandated radio system update. 

“This meticulous reconciliation and verification process worked and identified an overstatement of cash carryover during the final development stage,” Robinson wrote in his budget report. “Providing accurate information for the commission and office holders to aid in their decision making has always been the objective of the budget development process.”

The auditor’s budget included a cash carryover estimate of more than $3.5 million, as of Oct. 31, 2016. On Jan. 17, it was determined the actual cash carryover as of Dec. 31, 2016 is $2,240,460.

On Friday, Jan. 20, the commissioners issued a public statement announcing the situation. As a result, the “budget adopted on Jan. 30 will contain substantial changes,” the statement read. 

Since that announcement, commissioners have been holding meetings with county offices and departments facing substantial budget cuts. 

“This is a million dollar hole we’re trying to plug,” said presiding commissioner Ron Schieber at a Tuesday, Jan. 24 budget meeting with Platte County director of planning and zoning Daniel Erickson. 

At the meeting, Schieber said the problem goes back to previous commissions’ lack of long-term planning and inconsistent financial reporting. Schieber asked Erickson to cut $38,000 from his department budget by the end of the business day on Thursday, Jan. 26 and assured him that department heads and officeholders across the county were receiving similar news this week. 

“The radio payment was improperly accounted for and that delayed us becoming aware of the hole,” Elliott said.

Schieber and the other commissioners urge officeholders and department heads to cut salary costs because when looking at long-term expenses salaries are the largest single line item expense.

“The only way we can get to a place where the employees can get decent wages is to streamline our departments,” Schieber said. “Anything else you cut is a short-term fix.”

Erickson said his department was already down to its bare bones several years ago when a staff of 10 employees was cut to seven employees, working on both planning and zoning and stormwater projects. Earlier in the meeting, Schieber told the district commissioners that Platte County recorder of deeds Gloria Boyer had made a similar statement when told of the impending budget cuts.

“I think she’s just been through this too many times,” Schieber said. 

To further address the shortfall and balance the budget, commissioners said they were eliminating the 2017 allocation of money to address a jail expansion into the basement “futures” area and were raiding other accounts. The $2 million emergency reserve fund will remain untapped.

“This hole was already there, but it was just discovered way too late for us to do anything else,” Schieber told Erickson.