Monday Oct. 24, Warren County supervisors debate proposed budget cuts that call for scrapping eight county senior mealsites, virtually shutting down the county planning department and eliminating the county Youth Court -- actions that would eliminate 24 job positions.
A tentative 2012 county budget that calls for deep cuts, layoffs and consolidation of government departments and services was unveiled Monday Oct. 24, sparking spirited debate among county supervisors.
The $145.4 million proposed budget reflects an increase of $474,445 over the adopted 2011 budget, reflecting a 1.9 percent increase in local taxes – primarily due to $1.1 million increase in mandated retirement contributions for county employees.
The budget calls for eliminating eight county-sponsored, community-based senior mealsites, at a savings of $126,000 to county taxpayers. The plan also calls for shutting down most functions of the county Planning department, eliminating the county Human Resources Department, eliminating the county Youth Court, and abolishing 24 job positions, while terminating 11 current employees – as well as deep cuts to county public works projects.
Under the proposed plan, senior meals would be prepared in two central kitchens, one at The Cedars, and the other at Countryside Adult Home in Warrensburg. The meals would then be driven directly to seniors at their homes through the Meals on Wheels program.
The seniors that had been attending the community-based mealsites would need to drive to these locations to pick up their meals to continue getting them, county officials said.
But if local towns or organizations wanted to sponsor mealsites, they could provide them, and meals prepared in the two central kitchens could be driven to the local sites, continuing the services as they now are offered.
Several supervisors objected to the mealsite cuts, noting that the group community meals provide important social opportunities for the elderly.
Others decried slashing the funding of the county Planning Department – decreasing its budget by as much as $450,000, noting they have obtained vital community development grants that have enhanced the lives of local homeowners and other county citizens. The proposal calls for shifting $150,000 of the money from the planning department to Warren County Economic Development Corp. to develop jobs, which some supervisors questioned.
“Our planning personnel have brought in tens of millions of dollars over the years for our local communities,” Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe said. “Is the EDC going to apply and administer grants like this?”
County Administrator Paul Dusek replied that the county would be effectively ceasing its efforts to obtain grants for affordable housing, home weatherization and community development, because such grant money was being eliminated by the state. He said the EDC would be seeking money only for business and job development.
Dan Girard said the changeover would be a gamble.
“I have a hard time shifting these duties to an unproven entity, when I havent seen the fruits of their labor and we're 'going after' a department with proven accomplishments.”
Dusek replied that the county had to change with the times.
“There's no question the planning department has been a credit to the county,” he said. “But looking at the changes in economy, we think that the planning department will be dying a slow death.”
Dusek added that there were no guarantees of success.
“You're absolutely right, it's taking a chance, we can't guarantee this will work,” he continued. “But if we don't try to move in a new direction, we'll be destined to be stuck in the past.”
Monroe questioned whether the state grant moneies were indeed drying up. He cited meetings and conversations he's had with county officials across the state.
“This is not the message I'm hearing from officials from around the state -- we're still going to have community development grants.”
County Budget Officer Kevin Geraghty defendended the proposed cuts to county planning.
“A lot of towns already do the planning and grant-writing themselves,” he said. “We felt this was the time to make the change.”
Monroe said the deep cuts to the planning department would stymie the work they've traditionally accomplished on behalf of community-based businesses.
But Geraghty added that thesaid that the EDC would likely bring in new businesses, each providing 10 to 25 jobs.
“Other counties are landing new businesses that are creating new jobs,” he said. “It's not as much a crapshoot as we think it will be.”