Another day and another story by News staff writer Steve Schulwitz that the Alpena County government is once again looking at a gap between revenue and spending.
The county is currently considering a shortfall of $1.2 to $1.6 million. Officials expect to cut about $500,000 of it by spending the rest of the year prudently, and they want to cover another $800,000 of it with money from its share of American Rescue Plan Act stimulus funds. .
That would leave about $300,000 for the county to cover from its cash savings account, which stood at about $4.6 million at the start of this year, enough to cover about 41% of annual expenses. Auditors consider that a healthy savings account is enough to cover about 10-25% of expenses.
So the county is not in trouble yet. But the stimulus funds will eventually dry up. If the county made no changes and still faced a $1.6 million annual budget shortfall after the stimulus funds ended, it would exhaust its cash savings and dry up in about three years.
It’s time to right the ship.
Officials say they could earn an extra $700,000 a year by asking voters to override a state law that limits the tax rates governments can charge under certain circumstances — in other words, by asking for a tax hike. But that’s not a given because voters are facing higher prices everywhere thanks to inflation, and even if the tax hike were passed, it would still leave an annual shortfall of $900,000, which which would dry up savings in five years.
The county must therefore make cuts somewhere.
According to reports from Schulwitz, officials discussed many points. Even gutting the county’s newest taxpayer-funded jail and contracting another county to house our inmates. Even reducing road patrols. Even reducing county office hours.
Nobody wants to make cuts, and it’s easy to come up with arguments against any of the items to be discussed.
But just imagine all the good things the county could have done with that stimulus money if it hadn’t had to cover its own shortcomings.
The county needs to straighten out its bottom line.
And he must do it now.