Commissioners study details of annual budgets

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Connie jo discoe

Regional Editor

McCOOK, Neb. Red Willow County commissioners reviewed proposed 2019-2020 budgets with the veterans services officer, Extension officers and the health department director during their weekly meeting Monday morning.

Commission chairman Earl McNutt said commissioners are looking for any way however small to save tax payers money, short of a last resort of cutting the number of county employees. "The only way to save big money is to eliminate people," McNutt said.

Tom Stritt, the veterans services officer, told commissioners he doesn't think he overdoes travel, defending his request for $12,000 for travel in 2019-2020. Commissioners recommend $10,000.

For travel, Stritt spent $12,424.49 in 2016-2017 and $11,527.58 in 2017-2018. He budgeted $12,000 in 2018-2019 and spent $8,933.20.

On the "convention/workshop expense" line of his budget, Stritt spent $1,822.34 in 2016-2017 and $1,516.16 in 2017-18. He budgeted $2,000 for 2018-2019 and spent $1,706.94. He requests $2,000 in 2019-2020.

Commissioner Steve Downer said Stritt's travel expenses are high compared to other departments. Cooperative Extension is the only other department that has a line actually labeled "Travel" expenses, requesting $10,000 in the 2019-2020 budget; its convention/workshop expenses line is at $0.

Other departments requesting convention/workshop expenses are: Assessor, $1,500; county attorney, $600; county clerk, $1,300; clerk of the district court, $1,300; election commissioner, $500; treasurer, $1,000; and county health department, $500.

In its 2019-2020 proposed budget, the three-member board of commissioners requests $5,500 for mileage and $2,000 for convention/workshop expenses, for all three (not each) commissioners.

Commissioners suggested that Stritt look into taking advantage of video conferencing and/or conference calls or "Skype" on the computer, rather than actual traveling. McNutt said he is a strong advocate of education, but there are other means to that end other than traveling. Even NACO (the Nebraska Association of County Officials organization) conducts some meetings by computer or over the telephone, McNutt said. "It's a way to curb costs," McNutt said.

Stritt told commissioners there are "very, very few meetings across the computer" for him, and that he would rather meet and talk to people face-to-face. "I don't think I overdo travel," Stritt said. "I don't charge for meals," he said, and he explained that he stayed with family during a conference/reunion recently in Omaha, rather than get a motel room.

Stritt said he has just returned from Omaha and a three-day reunion of Vietnam veterans, of which he is one. He said that he feels meetings, conferences and continuing education "give you a foundation," but it's "the sidebar conversations" that are truly valuable.

Stritt includes $2,000 in his proposed 2019-2020 Red Willow County $12,000 travel budget to attend a national convention in Georgia. He decided at the meeting Monday morning, however, that he can charge Furnas County for that expense and remove it from his Red Willow County budget, leaving $10,000 in his travel budget.

Stritt has an interlocal agreement to serve veterans living in Furnas County, charging that county $17,175.42 for salary and $2,318.67 for retirement and Social Security, for a total of $19,495.09 in personal services in 2019-2020. (Stritt's Red Willow County salary for 2019-2010 will be $46,315.40, up $691.28 from $45,624.12 in 2018-2019).

Stritt also has a "Miscellaneous" line of $5,215 for Furnas County operating expenses. From that fund, he spent $469.11 in 2017-2018, and requested $5,215 and spent $803.86 in 2018-2019. Stritt told commissioners he is "assuming" those figures are okay with Furnas County officials. It is from this "Misc." fund "cushion," he said, that he can pay for the national conference trip in 2019-2020.

"This is my money, too," Stritt said, speaking, he said, as a tax payer as well as veterans services officer. McNutt encouraged Stritt to "spend the tax payers' money as your own."

Stritt declined to reduce any other expenses from his proposed budget. He said he "hates to barebones" grave markers and flags. He budgeted $2,000 in 2018-2019 and spent $2,367.32. He is requesting $2,000 again in 2019-2020.

Stritt's total budget for Red Willow and Furnas County veterans services, minus the $2,000 taken from Stritt's Red Willow County travel budget, will be $96,174.49 for 2019-2020, which is an increase of $12,019.78 over actual expenses of $84,154.71 in 2018-2019.

McNutt told Cooperative Extension representatives Ben Dutton and Theresa Thomas. "You're doing a good job. That's not the question."

"Most of the proposed budgets are bare-bones. Every little bit helps," McNutt said, adding that utilizing conference calls, video conferencing and Skype saves time and travel expenses.

At the recommendation of commissioners, Dutton removed $2,000 from the "Travel" line of Extension's proposed 2019-2020 budget, coming down to $10,000 from $12,000. Dutton said, "We'll do our part."

Dutton said the department will be able to save some expenses as it has recently been provided a car by the University.

Extension's Red Willow County budget for 2019-2020 totals $132,971, up just $2,145.17 over $132,825.83 actual expenses in 2018-2019.

Pam Harsh, director of the Red Willow County Health Department, told commissioners that medical/hospital supplies and vaccines are expensive, "and we don't make a great deal on them." They don't keep a supply of them, such as shingles shots, on stock either, she said, because they're so expensive. "We used to make money on vaccinations and administrative fees," she said.

Some pharmaceutical companies are "rationing" shingle shots to just so many per month, Harsh said.

From the "Medical/Hospital Supplies" line, the department spent $73,782.82 in 2016-2017 and $80,245.25 in 2017-2018. Harsh budgeted $100,000 in 2018-2019 and spent $117,583.29. She's requesting $118,000 in 2019-2020.

Harsh presented a proposed total budget of $304,766.96 for 2019-2020, an increase of $31,675.86 over actual expenses of $273,091.10 in 2018-2019.

The budget does not include the possibility of receiving a $20,000 grant. If the department were to receive such a grant, it would not be able to spend it until it was written into next year's budget as revenue. Neither Harsh nor board members Matt Springer and Kevin Potthoff said they foresee receiving a grant. Harsh told commissioners, "I spoke to the grant writer, and she doesn't anticipate any grant that fits us."

Harsh said she wants to remove the grant from anticipated revenue, because including "a possible grant looks like our budget is larger than it is." Springer agreed, saying, "There's no chance of getting it. Leave it out. It just makes our budget look inflated."

Harsh said she is confident with adding $10,000 to anticipated revenue, although she is cautious and feels it is better to underestimate revenue. She said that she and health board members are looking for opportunities to increase revenue and decrease expenses, including looking at different purchasing and buying groups to obtain vaccinations to save the department money.

She said the department can potentially make money if shots are given individually, but, she said, that means, as an example, "poking little ones" five times instead of once or twice. "What it comes down to is doing what's best for our clients what makes it less stressful" for children and parents, she said.

Harsh said she has no advertising money in the budget, but is seeking ways to get the message out that the health department is for everyone in the county, "not just those who can't afford to go to the doctor." She said they promote the health department on Facebook and on its web page.

The health department's total budget is (removing the $20,000 grant) $304,766.96 for 2019-2020, which is up $31,675.86 from the actual expenses of $273,091.10 in 2018-2019.

McNutt said the increase is due mainly to the $18,000 increase from the $100,000 budgeted in 2018-2019 for medical/hospital supplies to the $118,000 request in 2019-2020; and to salary increases:

Harsh's from $42,084.96 in 2018-2019 to $42,864.96 in 2019-2020.

Part-time clerical staff members from $24,773.95 in 2018-2019 to $27,962 in 2019-2020.

Part-time nurses from $44,149.86 actual expense ($57,344 budgeted) in 2018-2019 to $58,020 in 2019-2020. That line spent $44,264.56 in 2016-2017 and $44,595.26 in 2017-2018.

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