As tough economic times continue, Buncombe County government has asked all of its departments to plan for possible 5 percent cuts for the next budget year, County Manager Wanda Greene told Xpress.
“In August, when we were facing increased fuel costs and caseloads, we asked departments to ready for 3 percent cuts. That was mostly done through frozen positions, positions that were already vacated or becoming vacant,” Greene said. “But times aren’t getting any easier—caseloads are still going up—so we’ve asked for 5 percent cuts. We’ve gone to every department and asked them to tell us what they can do, what they’ll have to do cut things down to that 5 percent level.”
Reports on potential cuts will be done on Jan. 15, Greene said, and then considered by the Board of Commissioners as it crafts the next fiscal year’s budget at a retreat in late April.
“We’ll be coming to them [the board] with what it takes to do our core services, and asking how we can continue to do our elective services—and why we should continue to do them,” Greene said.
Core services are what the county is required to provide by law, and Greene noted that “we’re committed to keeping the same level of quality.” But what are technically “elective” services cover a wide range of programs as well.
“We don’t have to do animal control, we don’t have to run an animal shelter, we don’t have to have a child-care center,” she said, listing some elective services. “We’ll be evaluating if some of those services could be contracted out.”
Some departments, like the county’s health department, combine core and elective services. That, too, might be affected. In late November, county staff brought up the idea of shifting some of the increased demand to clinics such as WNC Community Health Services, but promised to keep current staff and health services intact. Greene does note, however, that “there are parts of the health department services that we have to do—the core—and some that can be contracted out. We’ll be evaluating that very carefully.”
In their plans, county staff is attempting to restructure so that the average citizen won’t perceive significant changes in their services.
“They hopefully won’t see anything,” Greene said.