2011 by the outgoing commissioners court. As county judge I am designated budget officer by state law.
I will do my best to see that we properly implement that budget and stay in compliance. In the interest of transparency, as I educate myself in how to do this, I will attempt to pass along some of what I am learning.
The Texas Local Government Code clearly states the commissioners court “may spend funds only in strict compliance with the budget, except in an emergency.”
An emergency is defined as “a grave public necessity to meet an unusual and unforeseen condition that could not have been included in the original budget through the use of reasonably diligent thought and attention.”
We may “amend the budget to transfer an amount budgeted from one item to another budgeted item without authorizing an emergency expenditure.”
Not much wiggle room. In fact, the law states that “any officer, employee, or official of a county government who refuses to comply with this sub-chapter commits an offense punishable by a fine of from $100 to $1,000 and from 1 month to 1 year in county jail.
What about the challenge of implementing the new budget? First, I need to rev iew 2010 results. The county budget is basically split into two parts, general fund, and road and bridge (the four precincts).
In 2010, the General Fund Budget was set at $10.4 million, $9.8 million was spent. You might say “great! We spent $600,000 under budget.”
In fact, of the 40 departments/ accounts that make up the general fund, none were out of line on spending vs. budget, those that were over were properly adjusted, and a number of departments were significantly under budget.
The problem is that the county had revenues of only $9.1 million, $700,000 below actual expenditures. This deficit had to be paid out of general fund reserves.
As a result, the reserve account has been drawn down from $1.1 million at the start of 2010 to approximately $300,000 to begin 2011. This is dangerously low.
The $1.3 million shortfall in revenue in 2010 was a result of less revenue than expected from fees, fines, and other revenues, not from underestimated ta x revenues.
The general fund has been set at $10.6 million in 2011. The $6.2 million in estimated ad valorem tax revenue, that is budgeted, is a good number and another $1 million can be expected from sales tax.
But in 2010 only $1.9 million in revenue was generated by fines, fees and other sources. Therefore the $3.4 million in revenue that is budgeted to be generated from fees, fines, and other sources in 2011 is going to be unachievable, in my opinion.
Remember, only $300,000 is left in reserves, so we do not have a reserve account to bail us out like we had in 2010.
The new Commissioner’s Court has been presented literally with a million and a half dollar challenge for 2011. This is a challenge, not a crisis. We simply need to recognize the situation we’re facing early on and take necessary action.
As I’ve made the rounds meeting the folks that make up our county government, I’m convinced of one thing, we’ve got good capable people in the 30 or so departments involved. Working together, we’ll get the job done.
This analysis is based on financial data provided to me by our county auditor. As I gain a better understanding of the situation, get additional data, and/or my interpretation of the county’s financial status should be enhanced, modified, or completely changed for that matter, I will not hesitate to report to you.
Next week my plan is to review the budgets for the four road and bridge accounts.