Utah County commissioners, accustomed to answering questions, have an inquiry of their own these days: Hey Mister, got any spare change?
Commissioners, faced with a projected revenue shortfall next year unless they take action, won't have the advantage of dipping into a $2 million surplus to make ends meet, as they did for this year's budget."They spent it all," County Auditor Bruce Peacock said. "There isn't any more surplus. It's not going to be fun at budget time, that's for sure.
Commissioners have two choices: raise taxes or cut the county budget by eliminating county personnel and services. Peacock doubts commissioners can make $2 million in cuts without affecting essential services, but commissioners say they aren't too excited about about the alternative of raising taxes.
"We don't plan to (raise taxes), but circumstances might dictate otherwise," Commissioner Malcolm Beck said.
Commissioner Sid Sandberg said Utah County's tax rate is one of the lowest in state. Nevertheless, "I don't want to preside over a tax increase. In the course of this year we're going to see substanial cutbacks in the county services and personnel."
Commissioners started making cuts this week when they eliminated the county clerk position and placed clerk duties under the auditor's office.
According to an agreement passed Wednesday, 18-year veteran Clerk Bill Huish on Friday will go on paid leave through the end of next year, when his term ends. The agreement also eliminates the chief dupty cleark position, held by Dwayne Case.
Friday also is the last day for Personnel Director John McGuinn, who has been with the county 10 years. He cites health as his primary reason for retiring buy said he is stepping down with "the hope that may departure will relieve some of the budget concerns regarding the Personnel Department. If my going helps maintain some of the people, so much the better."
And though County Attorney Steve Killpack plans to finish out his term, the lack of any pay raise since he took office has prompted him to cut back on his hours and supplement his income by taking outside clients.
County elected officials haven't had a raise since 1985, despite the fact that they make about 23 percent less than their Salt lake County conterparts. That discrepancy isn't likely to change any time soon.
"I don't see a salary increase for elected officials during my term," Sandberg said. "I certainly wouldn't support it."
Killpack -- who makes less than attorneys for counties like Duchesne or Sevier -- said the salry discrepancy is going to take a serious toll on the quality of Utah County services and personnel.
Huish and Sheriff Dave Bateman agree. Huish doesn't deny that his office's workload was halved when the state took over operation of the disrict court in January, "but we lost more than 50 percent of our personnel in the transition," he said.
"I knew they were going to do it (eliminate his position), so how could I oppose it? But I still feel there's a need for the county clerk," he said. "It too tight for us to operate even now."
Huish said commissioners are creating an atmosphere of uncertainty amoung county employees, who he said constitute the county's best asset. "You wonder where the ax is going to fall next."
If Commission Chairman Brent Morris has his way, the next ax will fall at the Sheriff's Department, whose two captains are two too many, he said. Morris said he also plans to eliminate "every penny of overtime" from next year's budget.
Bateman, however, said his department needs more men and money, not less. An increasing caseload forced the department to use a third of its overtime budget during this year's first quater.
He said that unless the county comes up with $42,00, the first service to go will be the tightened security at the 4th District Court.
"We've now reached the point where we have no more funding to continue that," he said of the service, which was implemented last fall at the request of judges and tell them we'll just have to discontinue it."
Many of the cuts will depend on what voters can stomack, Peacock said.
"A lot of it is what the public will accept. The only way to know is through the squawks and feedback we get."