La Paz County has begun the process of trying to eliminate the negative balance in the county’s general fund. At a work session April 29, County Administrator Megan Spielman explained the plan to attack the shortfall, which was $3.4 million at the end of fiscal year 2019-20 and could reach over $4 million by the end of the current fiscal year June 30.
Spielman also announced at the April 29 meeting that Finance Director Terry Krukemyer had resigned, effective May 13. She added he will be on administrative leave until that date. Accounting Operations Manager Ken MacFarlane will be temporarily in charge of the Finance Department.
Spielman and Karen Ziegler, a consultant for the county, said an informal work group made up of county department heads will be meeting and reviewing the county’s revenues and expenses through May 27. They will make their findings and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors at work sessions following their meetings.
Ziegler said they will look at the projected revenues and expenditures over the next five years. They will be looking at such things as fixed costs and leases and contracts that the county must pay. They will also review discretionary spending.
“They’ll be looking at budget requests as opposed to the funding that’s available,” she said. “They’ll try to get a picture of the total budget.”
Ziegler said the county should look at, discuss and do everything else before they consider layoffs, or, as they are officially known, reductions in force.
“Those should be a last resort,” she said.
Spielman said she and the three Supervisors are “united” in wanting to get this done.
District 1 Supervisor Dave Plunkett said the county also needed to be looking at their unfunded liabilities in the state’s pension plans. He said he brought up the matter because he’s heard talk of creating an excise tax to pay off these liabilities.
MacFarlane said this was related to the state’s public safety retirement plan, and this was a statewide problem. This was not a short-term liability and did not affect the county’s day-to-day operations or general fund shortfall.
“They’re two different problems,” MacFarlane said.
District 2 Supervisor Duce Minor said the problem was created at the state level due to poor management of the public safety pension plan.
“The problem with the general fund is on us,” he said. “It’s a self-caused problem.”
District 3 Supervisor Holly Irwin thanked everyone for their input and said it was good they were talking about the county’s options.
“It’s refreshing to hear ideas and options,” she said. “Hopefully, this will put the county in a better position than we are now.”
Minor thanked Spielman for bringing people into the process. He also said he appreciated the teamwork. He added that teamwork had to extend beyond the Board’s meeting room and into the county’s operations.
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” he said. “It appears we have a very strong group who want to be part of the solution.”
Minor said that, once the county created a plan, they needed to stick to it. He said that did not happen with the county’s last financial crisis in 2017.
MacFarlane stated the situation in 2021 is not the same as it was in 2017.
“There was a real panic in 2017,” he said. “We had no money. No cash.”
“It’s not as drastic now as it was then,” MacFarlane continued. “It’s bad, and it needs to be fixed. However, we can be thoughtful and careful. That’s the silver lining, such as it is.”
Minor told the Pioneer earlier he saw reason for optimism with the new solar projects and other developments planned for the county. He added the county can’t start spending that money yet.
“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” he said.