Saturday, March 19, 2011

Our Sister Counties: A National Perspective

This is a survey I came across on NACo (National Association of Counties).
Sobering, because it is definitely one of those surveys where you know what the results will be, but when the numbers leap from the page it is almost like a slap in the face. Check it out and see what I am talking about.
Economists say the national recession is over. But local governments are still feeling the aftershocks of the economic slowdown, according to a new NACo survey released at the association’s Legislative Conference.
The published report, The Recession Continues: An Economic Status Survey of Counties, highlights the continuing impact of the sluggish economy on county budgets and the actions counties are taking to cope with decreased revenues.
"After multiple tough budget cycles, counties appear to be settling into the ‘new normal’ of revenue and staffing levels," said NACo President Glen Whitley. "However, the budget cuts have become increasingly more severe and are affecting more Americans."
Among the key findings:
Declining revenues from the state are the number one contributor to lower revenue for counties (46 percent);
Counties used rainy-day funds (40 percent), made administrative changes and adjusted personnel to help keep their budgets balanced; and
More than half of the counties surveyed (53 percent) have fewer county staff than they did in 2010. Seventy-one percent of counties with fewer employees lost up to 5 percent of their workforce.
Five hundred counties with elected or hired administrators from 44 states responded to the survey, conducted in early February, making it the most comprehensive in the series of seven economic surveys NACo has conducted since 2007. The largest counties had populations of 1 million or higher; the smallest, less than 100,000.
The survey shows that counties are cutting services and employees to a greater degree, rather than the less painful budget adjustments reported in previous NACo surveys, such as delaying purchases and across-the-board budget cuts.
Consistent with earlier surveys, only a small percentage (15 percent) of counties reported increasing property tax rates, and only 2 percent have increased their local option sales tax rates to make up their shortfalls. Of responding counties, 50 percent said their states cap their ability to raise taxes, and 6 percent have county caps.
Instead, most counties have adjusted their budgets through actions such as follow (Counties were asked to indicate all actions taken):
47 percent have delayed purchases and repairs
47 percent have postponed capital investments
45 percent have frozen salary or pay
41 percent have instituted hiring freezes
40 percent have dipped into rainy-day funds
37 percent have imposed employee travel restrictions
31 percent have delayed construction, and
24 percent have laid off county workers.
Other actions by counties include scaling back employee benefits (22 percent) and offering early retirement to eligible employees (9 percent).
The survey data shows that "counties are not out of the woods," Whitley said. "Additional state aid cuts are looming, increased energy and operating costs are nearly certain, and increasing demands for public services remain."
It is not anything that we “want” to hear, that is for sure. Yet, so quickly how we in government forget just how dire the situation is for all of us.
I am told over and over again how “different” this recession. I try to be a student of history, and it is odd in the sense that it is a “working” recession for there are so many folks. It is difficult at times to remember just how close we are to edge. We must be diligent to see ourselves chart a different course.
I know Robertson County will as we head into our own budget process this spring/summer.

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