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County gives first approval to new budget

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Officials consider raising taxes, cutting services to balance budget

By Chris Sardelli

Despite being out of balance, Lancaster County Council gave first reading approval Monday to the first draft of the county’s 2009-10 budget.

County Administrator Steve Willis called it a “continuation budget” because it will remain fairly static. This means there will be no pay raises, but also no furloughs or layoffs for county employees.

In its current form, there is a deficit of almost $350,000 in the $31 million budget.

Willis said the difference between projected expenses and revenues is due to increases in insurance costs and funding that must now be provided for post-employment benefits.

The latter requirement is due to a provision called GASB 45, an accounting requirement from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board.

As a result, at least $255,000 must be allocated in the upcoming budget for trust funds for future retirees. The costs associated with this are based on salaries of employees and could change each year.

“These are things out of our control,” Willis said. “This is not the final budget because it’s out of balance. This can’t be the final budget.”

Willis said the budget must be balanced before June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. To balance it, council will discuss various options, including moderately raising taxes or cutting some county services.

County Council Chairman Fred Thomas said council’s finance committee has asked Willis to bring another budget proposal that is in balance.

“Who better to know which services to cut first than the man that runs the county,” Thomas said.

Several council members asked if there was any room in the budget to give some county employees a raise during the next fiscal year.

“Our employees are hurting as much as anyone else. Is there anything we can to do to give them a raise?” asked Councilman Larry Honeycutt.

“Notice that our current budget has no increase, but there are no furloughs or layoffs either,” Thomas said. “We all wish we could do something for the employees, but we need to see where we stand.”

Council will review second reading of the county’s budget at its May 18 meeting.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416