HAYS — More budget cuts, with possible layoffs, could be in the cards for Ellis County in 2021.
Faced with expenses outpacing revenue yet again next year, Ellis County commissioners Monday night took a sharp look at many different budget scenarios and came to the conclusion that county budgets can’t increase in 2021 and more revenue is definitely required.
“Let’s see what would happen if department heads cut 1%, and they need to let us know if that’s going to result in layoffs,” was the directive from county commission chairman Butch Schlyer to interim county administrator Darin Myers. “Then as we put pencils to things, we’ll try to straighten everything out.”
Budgets the past couple of years, 2019 and 2020, saw deep cuts totaling $1.9 million to county departments and to outside agencies that rely on county funding.
Not enough money is the situation again, but with an added snag. The challenge was discussed at length as 2021’s budget talks began Monday night during the regular commission meeting.
“There isn’t money to cut without getting into personnel, and some are worse than others,” Schlyer said. “The clerk only has four and a half people in her department. Our register of deeds only has three. There’s no room for them to cut. Same with county attorney.”
Schlyer said he told Myers earlier in the day, “I want to see these budgets come in lean, as lean as people can make them.”
“Based on what the sales tax does,” Schlyer said, “we’re gonna have to get out our pencil, and if that means shorten the work week, or if that means looking at certain departments and maybe laying people off, that might happen. But the days of doing this across-the-board cuts, we’re down to the bone. There just isn’t nothing there.”
The commissioners are holding town hall presentations across the county this month to ask voters to approve two county half-cent sales taxes. The questions will be posed on a ballot mailed out this spring by the County Clerk’s Office to all registered voters in the county.
Commissioner Dean Haselhorst recommended brutal honesty at the town halls to tell voters of the dire situation.
“We need to figure out how we’re going to generate income in this county and put money back in that department, starting now,” Haselhorst said, tapping his pen to the desk.
“Nobody likes property tax-raising, including myself,” he said. But property taxes on his Russell County cultivated ground are $16 an acre, compared to $8 an acre in Ellis County.
“We have to look at ways to generate income, we can’t keep cutting,” he said. “You can’t continue that trend in this county or there won’t be a county road left to drive on.”