As Allen County Council prepares to tackle the county's 2013 budget, the outlook may be a matter of perspective.
Initial projections indicate that Council will have about $1.5 million less to spend in its general fund next year than its estimated 2012 expenses of $85.4 million – if it is willing to take $1.5 million from its rainy day fund.
A tall order, perhaps, but not nearly as daunting as last year's challenge, when council originally imposed an across-the-board 7 percent cut to offset an anticipated drop in revenue.
“With the (across-the-board) cuts the past several years, we recognize we can't do that this year,” Council President Larry Brown said, adding that individual departments' budgets may be scrutinized more closely than usual to determine which can absorb further reductions – and which can't.
According to Auditor Tera Klutz, the county can expect to receive about $81.13 million in general fund revenue next year. That includes about $49.24 million in property taxes (up 2 percent from this year) and $31.88 million in other revenues, mostly income taxes.
The difference between that total and this year's anticipated spending is about $4.3 million, but that would be reduced by $1.1 million earmarked last year for 2013 employee benefits and by paying three Department of Planning employees with income taxes instead of general revenues.
There's no guarantee Council will agree to tap the rainy day fund, however. Last year, in fact, Klutz recommended tapping the fund for $4.5 million in an effort to close the projected $5.8 million shortfall. Council eventually opted for larger cuts instead, but some of that spending was restored in subsequent budget hearings.
No matter what Council decides, at least one employee appears set to make more money.
Council Thursday is expected to consider increasing Sheriff Ken Fries' salary to keep it in line with that of Prosecutor Karen Richards, whose pay was increased by state action, Klutz said. Fries, who last year earned $130,647, would make $135,080.
Previous sheriffs often earned far more, however, because they were allowed to keep some of the delinquent property taxes their department collected. Jim Herman, for example, earned $210,829 in 2004 before agreeing under pressure from Council and others to a fixed salary of $130,000 in 2006.
Klutz planned to present her budget projects to Council Thursday. Adoption is expected in October.