Shortfalls force counties to cut back
Police, sheriff and fire personnel are no longer immune from budget-related cuts, according to a new survey by the Washington-based National Association of Counties (NACo). Struggling with sharp declines in revenues, the nation’s counties are laying off public safety personnel along with layoffs and furloughs in other county departments to help address significant budget shortfalls as a result of a stubborn national recession, according to NACo’s latest “County Economic Status” survey, released on Monday.
Counties reported that they cutting all aspects of their budgets, but the leading areas of cuts were employee pay freezes (67 percent), capital investment delays (66 percent), hiring freezes (64 percent), purchase and repair delays (64 percent), layoffs (37 percent) and furloughs (23 percent). Many counties reported layoffs of hundreds of employees since 2008, and two counties reported having more than 1,000 fewer employees in 2010 than in 2008.
County service areas receiving the most furloughs, layoffs and cutbacks are administration (44 percent); sheriff, police and fire, and rescue (37 percent); roads, highways and transportation (35 percent); jails and corrections (28 percent); and health (25 percent). That is despite 85 percent of counties reporting that they have received, or expect to receive, funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment and Act (ARRA). “Our survey shows conclusively that counties large and small are struggling to address budget shortfalls and to fund essential services and programs communities have come to expect,” said NACo Executive Director Larry Naake in a statement. “The fact that 37 percent of counties are laying off police, sheriff and fire personnel indicates the seriousness of the revenue crisis, since public safety personnel are usually the last to be laid off. Counties large and small are experiencing their worst budget and revenue crisis since the early 1990s.”
Sixty four percent of responding counties said that they anticipated a revenue shortfall at the beginning of their current fiscal year. The anticipated shortfalls ranged from less than $100,000 to more than $200 million. More than half of those counties (55 percent) said that their anticipated shortfall became worse since the beginning of the fiscal year.
The three leading revenue sources responsible for the shortfalls were sales tax receipts (59 percent), reductions in state aid or federal funding (57 percent), and property tax receipts (45 percent). “The challenge for counties during these tough times is to provide services to families, seniors and veterans who are relying more on county services and programs as the economy continues to struggle,” Naake said.
The NACo survey is the fourth in a series that began in 2008 to collect information about the effects of the recession on county governments, budgets and services. The sample group for the latest survey consisted of 800 counties in all population ranges and all geographical regions of the country. Responses were received in late June from 104 counties in 33 states.
Download the complete “County Economic Status” survey.