GOSHEN — Elkhart County commissioner Mike Yoder was the bearer of bad news this weekend, warning officials that if they’re not careful when planning the 2014 budget, they could run the risk of depleting the county’s reserves.
Yoder told Elkhart County Council members Saturday, Sept. 14, that they need to ask themselves a few important questions as they sketch out next year’s spending plan for the county. It’s not too early to be thinking about county budgets beyond 2014, he said.
“What do we do in 2015?” Yoder asked. “At what point does this council want to start rebuilding the rainy day fund, and how are we going to do it?”
Yoder’s speech to the county council came just two days after the commissioners presented a list of suggestions on how to balance the 2014 budget. The recommendations included shifting around funds to meet expenses as well as plugging in $250,000 from the rainy day account.
“I think this is kind of a scary list,” Yoder said. “I don’t like any of these particular options, but this is the way we’re going to fund our shortfall.”
Yoder painted a bleak picture of the future Saturday, explaining that the county could drain its reserves by the end of next year and see a continuing shortfall in revenues as expenses climb. While it’s possible to “grow out” of the problem, recovery could take as many as 10 to 15 years with steady growth and no economic blips, he said.
Yoder said he recently met with seven other county commissioners from around the state to talk about budget issues.
“Only two of us had a budget problem, only two of us,” Yoder told the council. “Everybody else has funded their budgets for next year. They were looking at shortfalls of $50,000 or $100,000 or maybe $500,000. The problem we have in Elkhart County is not widely shared in the state.”
Elkhart County is expecting a shortfall of $6.5 million to $7.5 million, according to the commissioners.
County council president John Letherman said he does not believe continuous cuts to services are the answer to the county’s budget problems.
“I don’t think we can cut our way to prosperity,” he said.
Yoder agreed, adding that the county has reduced its budget by 20 percent since 2008.
“That’s a huge cut for any business, government or whatever, and so just for fun, I went through our budget and said if we need to cut $6 million, where would we do it, and how would we do it? I cut the guts out of county government and got to $4 million. We were still $2 million or $2.5 million short.”
The Elkhart County Council will begin budget hearings at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, and continue through Thursday, Sept. 19, at the Elkhart County Administration Building, 117 N. Second St. in Goshen. The first reading of the budget is scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 1, and adoption is set for Oct. 2.