Utah County 2020 budget explainer 02

The Utah County Administration Building stands Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

The Utah County Commission began discussion Wednesday about potential cuts to county departments in order to compensate for declines in sales tax revenue the county will experience as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The discussion began during the commission’s work session on Wednesday, during which Commissioner Nathan Ivie said the county should be proactive in identifying potential cuts as the county waits for sales tax projections to come in.

“I felt it would be prudent for us to start to have some preliminary discussion on where we’re going to need to make cuts within the county budget to ensure that our county budget stays balanced throughout the course of this year and that we can continue to meet the need of the citizens in delivering the essential services that are appropriate,” Ivie said. “As always, I like to look to myself first in the areas that we can create savings.”

Of the commission’s $1.1 million budget for this fiscal year, Ivie said he was able to identify tens of thousands in potential line-item cuts that would save Utah County money during the pandemic. Ivie proposed cutting funding for the annual State of the County awards ceremony, books and subscriptions, equipment and supplies and the commission’s travel budget and cellphone allowance.

“Obviously with the changes in travel as it relates to COVID, we feel we can find some significant savings in cutting travel from our budget,” he said.

In total, Ivie said he found “about $115,000 we can shave from the commissioner’s budget for a trimming of about 10%.”

Commissioners Tanner Ainge and Bill Lee said they would support making the cuts identified by their colleague.

“It’s minor things,” Lee said. “But still, it does add up. A little bit here, a little bit there.”

Ivie suggested that the commissioners consider meeting with various department heads and asking them to go through a similar process of looking for “more itemized” cuts as opposed to trying to cut by a mandated percentage.

“And so maybe rather than saying a percentage, we say, ‘These are the type of things we expect, these are the line items, the travel, the cellphones, whatever it might be that are related there,’” said Ivie. “We ask them to look more itemized rather than saying a general statement for everybody, (such as) 10%.”

Ainge said he supported that idea of letting department heads consider line-item cuts to their budgets as the county waits to get a better idea of where it is at “in terms of our projected revenue compared to what we budgeted for the year.”

“One goal is to make sure that we’re rightsizing to any sort of downward projection on the sales tax side,” said Ainge. “And at least this (cutting the commission budget) is a place to start. We’re ready to do those downsizings, so I would support that. And (then) we (can) kind of let other department heads go through the same exercise.”

Ivie said letting other departments work through line-item cuts would help the county tighten its budget so it isn’t “all of a sudden hit” in later months.

“(If) we’ve systematically approached this and tightened it down to where, when we have those true finalized numbers, we (will) hopefully only have to come up with an additional 1% or 2% in reductions of expenses somewhere in the fall month(s) as opposed to having to come up with 15% or 20% at that point in time,” said Ivie.

Since Wednesday’s meeting was a work session, the commission did not take any action related to its budget or the budgets of any county departments.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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