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Tough times lead to county belt tightening

Proposed Crook County budget cuts two employees as part of a cost-saving effort
After a few alterations, the Crook County Budget Committee approved a $54,613,298 budget for the county on Tuesday; one that comes at a time when construction is at a relative standstill and unemployment rates continue to soar.
   "It's a tweaks-and-trims budget," Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said. Although there will be no significant changes in services the county provides, the trims brought about the elimination of two county building department positions.
   "There will be no major reductions - just belt-tightening on the part of the county," Cooper said of the more conservative budget. "By and large, it will be business as usual."
   The total county budget dropped by $5,543,029 from last year's $60,156,327, and the reduction is partly due to the anticipated loss of federal county payments and reduced property tax revenue from the lack of construction and real estate development.
   The county's general fund increased by $2,133,308 to $14,233,904 due to the addition of the landfill to the general fund budget. The county road fund predicts an ending balance of $20 million.
   The reduction in the building department's force is primarily the result of the construction slowdown, and subsequent loss of property tax revenue.
   "Pretty much the sole cause was the decline in building, and as a result, the fees in that department are down substantially," Commissioner Mike McCabe said.
   The county projects a slight 5-percent increase in total property tax receipts for the upcoming year, a far cry from the 22 percent raise predicted for last year. Building permit receipts are projected to come it at only 60 percent of last year.
   Other challenges facing the county include rising energy prices, pushing up of maintenance and fuel costs and rising health insurance costs for county employees.
   Also on McCabe's mind are the condition of the national economy and impending recession.
   "I think it's entirely economy - or lack of economy - driven," he said. "It's pretty slow. The reports I'm getting are that the economy's going to be in a downturn for the foreseeable future, maybe longer. I think it's going to be really important for the county to operate as conservatively as possible and maintain as many services as possible."
   The budget will go to the county court for final adoption in June.