The Jefferson County commissioners are taking a cautious approach in preparing this year's budget.
That is a good course of action.
The county in the past several years has had a good cushion with a healthy carryover going into the beginning of a new year. The anticipated revenue was added to the carryover for the final budget amount.
The county had a carryover of about $1 million in the past several years. It has dropped to $700,000 this year.
County departments have operated on similar budgets year after year. The departments now want additional money to give raises and to buy new equipment.
The commissioners are faced with cutting $700,000 from what departments want to balance the budget,
The county has seen its sale and use tax revenue increase during the past two years. But the county auditor's office has taken a conservative approach in its prediction of the revenue coming in.
The commissioners have been spending some of their emergency funds to make repairs at county buildings, including new boilers at the justice center and repairs to broken pipes at the Towers building on Market Street.
County department heads have slipped raises into budgets during the past couple of years, so the argument more raises are needed may not be justified. Millions of Americans are working with stagnant wages as the economy continues its slow recovery. New equipment can be considered because it may make the department's operations more efficient to the public.
The commissioners face some tough decisions in cutting wish lists from the departments. The budget for the past several years has been nearly the same. But expenses, including raises, has driven the budget to the point where living on the same amount may be very difficult.
The county form of government is unique in that the commissioners give the departments a lump sum of money, and it is up to the department heads to distribute that money into line items. Those department heads are generally elected officials.
The department heads and the commissioners need to share in the responsibility of making a budget work with the funds available. Submitting a wish list that is unrealistic is not acceptable for an official who is answerable to the public at the polls.
County government needs to become more efficient. New ideas are needed.
Throwing numbers on a piece of paper and putting it on the commissioners' desks without forethought to the expected revenue is just being lazy.