St. Joseph County commissioners plan to hold off on some budgeted items for 2020 to help brace for what could be a financially rocky seven months ahead.
During their executive committee meeting Wednesday, commissioners put the brakes on more than $100,000 in budgeted items from the county’s IT department, as well as a portion of an allocation to the county road commission.
County administrator Teresa Doehring said she and finance director Angie Steinman took a comprehensive look at the county’s 2020 budget to find areas where the county might be able to delay some of its anticipated expenditures.
“We don’t know what the overall financial implication’s going to end up being for us,” Doehring said. “We took a look at all of our capital requests for 2020 and we took a look at what we have already committed to by way of ordering or projects we’ve already completed.”
Based on the review, a few matters budgeted to Dustin Bainbridge and the county’s IT department stood out, Doehring said. The first she noted: a proposed $80,000 cost for network switches and upgrades.
She said Bainbridge previously had moved forward with a portion of that process, spending $3,000 as a result.
Bainbridge acknowledged the switches and upgrades are something the county will need eventually, but he said it is prudent to suspend the plan for now.
The matter of domain servers, budgeted at $10,000, was next.
“It might make sense just to hold off on that but if we do wait, we do need to renew the maintenance on them,” he said. “I might be able to squeeze that into my general fund budget.”
Finally, Doehring inquired whether a Microsoft email security feature, at a cost of $15,000, could be put on hold. Again, Bainbridge said the program eventually should be purchased and installed as soon as possible, but delaying that for now is OK.
“We do need to upgrade our network, we obviously need to replace our servers as they get older and the maintenance becomes expensive on them, and it’s always good to continue our security posture,” he said. “With where things are right now, there’s probably more important things for that money to be set aside for.”
Steinman, meanwhile, said commissioners last year approved a $200,000 appropriation to the road commission and its bridge and road fund. Board chairman Dennis Allen said trimming $100,000 from that allocation still would give the road commission about $66,000 to help offset costs related to upgrading a one-mile stretch of Constantine Road, and leave $34,000 toward a bridge project in Fabius Township.
“So, both we’re contributing to Constantine Road and we’re still contributing to something in Fabius, and we hold back the $100,000 additional until we see where we’re at financially,” Allen said. “We’re kind of committed to that mile (of Constantine Road).”
Commissioners Ken Malone and Allen Balog said they have a difficult time supporting any funding to the road commission. Malone said the road commission has the money to pay for the projects and Balog said the allocation should be nixed while county employees are furloughed.
“They have in their financial situation three times what they need for the year in the bank right now. We don’t,” Malone said. “We’re cutting things, we’re looking to cut more things, I think this is one of those things we’re going to let them pay for themselves because we have more cuts coming … we don’t know our financial outlook, it’s not looking good, we don’t know our circumstance.”
Balog said in such uncertain times financially, following through on approving the allocation – even half of what originally was designated – would be a slap in the face to anyone who is furloughed or laid off.
Commissioner Dan Czajkowski said the county has an obligation to fulfill the Constantine Road contract. He said the contract has already gone out, while Allen further noted the county entered the agreement in good faith with Florence Township.
“$100,000 is a considerable amount of money being held back,” Allen said. “To just say no, we’re not going to do it, I’m not in favor of that.”
Allen said he will talk to road commission manager John Lindsey and find out when the agency ultimately needs the money.
In a related matter, Doehring said an extension notice recently was sent to the 66 staff members currently on furlough. She said the initial furlough had employees off work or working in a reduced capacity through May.
“We did extend that through June 8, which is when we will notify staff of what the next step is, if we’ll continue to furlough or bring folks back to work,” Doehring said. “So, all those notifications have been made.”