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Budget woes continue

By By Paul Keane
Publisher
Inadvertantly, the lost revenue and cuts in state government are being felt at the county level. The difference is that state regulations require that counties do certain things, whether the funding is there or not.
The State Legislature dictates the number of positions which must be filled in a county courthouse and administration. Whether funding is available or not, those positions must be filled.
For years, officials in the education field have struggled with similar regulations, calling them "unfunded mandates." Escambia County Administrator Tony Sanks says it just means making cuts in other areas.
"The Commission is allotted so many jobs by the state," he said. "Those jobs have to be filled in order to meet state requirements. When someone retires or leaves one of those positions, we have to fill it."
Sanks said while counties aren't suffering as deep of cuts as state government – relying heavily on ad valorem taxes and sharing in state sales taxes and oil and gas reveunes that can't be reduced by the legislature – there are some cuts being made in order to keep the state-mandated number of jobs filled.
"Every department head in the county is doing a very good job of reducing expenses in other areas," Sanks said. "If we don't have the money to fill a certain position required by the state, then we have to make cuts in other areas such as materials, supplies and things like that in order to come up with the money to cover those salaries."
Sanks said the state has also cut some funding in the form of ADECA grants, meaning that decisions on delaying some purchases and projects have and are continuing to be made.
The main brunt of the cuts may not be felt until next fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1, Sanks added.
"We're feeling the effects of the struggling economy, but we're making it so far this year," he said. "Next fiscal year is going to be really rough. I don't see the economy making significant enough improvements over the next 12 months to help us with revenues next year.
"And one of the reasons we have been able to make this year is that we had a reserve built up that helped us make it through. Now, though, that reserve has been used up and we won't have that to fall back on next fiscal year."