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Dane County Executive Falk Lifts Spending Freeze; Eyes Position Cuts for 2003 Due to Projected Loss of 2004 State Shared Revenue Funds

August 06, 2002
Sharyn Wisniewski, 267-8823
County Executive

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk today lifted the 2002 County operating budget freeze that she had ordered February 7 in response to the Governor’s proposed budget repair bill. In January, the Governor proposed to cut this year’s County budget by $5.74 million,” said Falk. “The Legislature rejected those cuts, so Dane County does not face a problem this year.” Falk noted: “The County's 2002 budget is balanced, and we fully expected to end 2002 without having to make any mid-year adjustments. “However,” she added, “the Legislature and Governor instituted shared revenue cuts of about $4.1 million for Dane County in 2004. We cannot wait until next year to begin preparing for those cuts. I am lifting the freeze, but I am also taking measures to insure the long term fiscal health of Dane County.” Falk left in place the 5% reduction in her own salary, and the 3% reductions in her immediate staff’s salaries (chief of staff and executive assistants). She commented: “Increasing demand for services and declining state and federal dollars mean that the 2003 budget will be challenging. I’ll be asking County employees to continue to improve services while making sacrifices so we can control property taxes, so it is important for me to continue the pay cut I took in early February.” Capital Spending Falk lifted the freeze on capital projects, but she directed that the County borrow only those funds for which there is an immediate need. For example, the County was originally scheduled to borrow approximately $13 million for the Courthouse this year. By borrowing approximately $7.5 million this year and borrowing the rest as needed next year, the Courthouse will stay on schedule yet the County will save interest costs. Falk said: “At a time that the interest the County earns has fallen, we cannot afford to borrow money and have it sit in the bank. We have to be smart about our borrowing and time the issue of bonds to match our actual needs.” Position Freezes Falk lifted the freeze on hiring by County agencies, frozen since February 7. However, in light of the projected impact of the 2004 cut in shared revenue, Falk is reviewing all current vacancies to determine which vacant positions could be eliminated in the 2003 budget. “Filling vacant positions now when they may have to be eliminated in 2004 would be a hardship on staff and disruptive to our departments,” said Falk. She indicated that the Department of Administration would have a list of positions which will be analyzed for possible elimination by next week. She stressed that she would not make final decisions until she proposes the 2003 budget on October 1st after consulting with County Board Supervisors, department heads, and the County’s unions. “By taking these steps now,” Falk said, “we can cut 2003 costs while preserving services and avoiding layoffs.” The County’s 2002 budget included “prioritized hiring” which imposed an 11 week hiring delay beyond the average recruitment time. The vacancy freeze replaced prioritized hiring. However, now that the freeze has been lifted, positions that have been vacant for less than 11 weeks will be required to stay open for the full 11 weeks as called for in the current budget. In addition, County ordinance requires that the Board’s Personnel & Finance Committee and the County Executive approve the filling of any position that has been vacant for six months or more. Of the approximately 108 positions that are now vacant, about 60 positions have been or will have been open for six months before they can be filled. The Department of Administration will work with Supervisor Scott McDonell, Chair of the Personnel & Finance Committee, to set up an orderly process to review these vacant positions. Operating Capital (Funds for equipment purchases and maintenance projects under $100,000.) Falk is directing department heads to review approximately $650,000 of frozen operating capital with the Department of Administration within the next 30 days. She noted that in the seven months of the freeze, some departments heads may have found alternatives to the maintenance or equipment needs or have higher priorities that should be addressed in the 2003 budget. Following this review, funds will be released for necessary operating capital. Falk concluded: “As we look to 2003 and beyond, we are taking the proactive steps to controlling spending while maintaining and improving services. The budget repair bill does not fix the broken partnership with local governments but instead simply cuts over $4 million in 2004 for our County. That failure makes our next budgets even tougher than they were going to be. But, as we have for the past five years here in our County, we will continue to balance our budgets and deliver excellent services to our citizens.” # # #