SHERIDAN — The Sheridan Board of County Commissioners pleaded with local state legislators Tuesday for budget help. Chairman Tom Ringley said that while the revenue outlook is dim, services the county is legally obligated to provide are becoming more expensive.
County reserves are down to $5.6 million after commissioners drew out $1.3 million to fill in gaps in this year’s budget. With a budget this year of $15.3 million, the reserves represent little more than a short-term back-up plan.
Payment in lieu of taxes — money the federal government sometimes pays local governments for non-taxable federal land in their jurisdictions — will indeed be available this year, commissioners announced Tuesday. They have budgeted $665,000 from PILT money for the year. Still, it won’t solve all the problems.
Even after eliminating positions, cutting hours and requiring employees to pay more into their health care and retirement plans, commissioners said the county is still hurting.
The county operates under various restrictions on how it can spend certain pools of money. For example, direct distributions from the state cannot be used to pay employee salaries or benefits. State or federal law requires that the county provide certain services, such as jail, courts and workers compensation coverage. Commissioners stressed that they have no control over these costs.
Rep. Michael Madden, R-Buffalo, has been scrutinizing the numbers over the summer and said the best option to help the county in the upcoming budget session is to suspend “consensus” allocations this year and restructure the direct distributions.
“Consensus” money goes to local government only for use on capital improvements, such as road maintenance or bridge construction. Madden said that steady funding for these costs over the years make it safe to suspend for a year or two.
With direct distributions, Madden wants to shift money around so that wealthier counties receive less assistance this year and poorer counties receive more.