Work smarter, not harder
Town chairman talks about
budget in tough economy
August 10, 2011 | 08:14 AMEditor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series about what the current town of Linn chairman believes are the most important issues he will face during his term. The first part, in which Jim Weiss discussed a business expansion proposal and how it could affect the town's Comprehensive Plan, appeared in the July 28 edition of the Regional News.
LINN — Town Chairman Jim Weiss said there's one thing his community has in common with several others — a general concern for finances.
"Look at the economy," he said during a special July interview. "Look at housing values. Look at budget restraints."
It's true. Wherever you go, everything costs more, and it seems everything's not worth as much as it used to be. State, county and local officials are saddled with the eternal burden of taking care of municipal needs without ripping away the lifejackets for taxpayers trying not to drown in these tumultuous waters of our economy.
And look at Linn. According to Weiss, the situation appears to be far from critical — now. He said the town is debt-free with more than $2 million in reserves.
But are there darker skies ahead?
"It's possible we'll take another hit in our valuations," Weiss said. "All else being equal, our revenues are probably going to be down. Unless you dip into the reserves or borrow, you're going to have to dig into your budget."
Hence why he said the economy is one of his biggest concerns during his first full term as town chairman. Weiss had been appointed to the position last year after former longtime chairman David Bollweg retired. Weiss was elected in April, and his term expires in 2013.
Some people may sit back and breathe a sigh of relief they're not in his shoes, given this economy. Weiss sounded more than up for the challenge, citing his financial background, which he said "lends itself well to leading the town." Currently, he owns and operates a business in Hebron, Ill., but for years, Weiss worked in banking.
"Financial responsibility is what this town needs," Weiss said.
So what exactly does that mean?
Weiss said one way to watch the bottom line is to put off capital expenditures.
"But the need won't go away," he said. "Then, you're stuck with old equipment."
Then there are operating expenses. That's an area Weiss said officials are looking at in terms of the budget.
"All our departments have to learn to work smarter, not harder, and be able to find greater efficiencies within the existing group we have," he said.
Cost-sharing is another avenue Weiss said he wants to explore. For example, with health care and insurance costs for town employees, he said the town of Linn pays 100 percent.
"Although some of our employees are under contract, the town will have to work with them on that, to make adjustments," Weiss said.
It's all in an effort to work within budget restraints. As for revenue, what the town receives from property taxes can only increase a few percentage points each year — or, by the percentage of new construction, which anyone would predict isn't going to be greater because no one's building these days.
Weiss said for the town to remain within its budget affects all municipal services, from emergency personnel to road and park maintenance.
But the best laid plans aren't infallible. For example, take the Groundhog Day Blizzard. Although Weiss wasn't able to provide an exact cost estimate during the interview, he said clearing roads during that storm created much more of an expense than what was in the budget. He said now, town officials have to find a way to cover that expenditure.
Then there's the possibility some person or group, for the noblest of causes, may ask the town for a large amount of cash. That's another potential drain on town finances.
"Anyone can come up and say they need $100,000 for something," Weiss said. "It's not easy to ask for $100,000, especially now, but it's just not going to happen. Efficiency is the focus."
So it appears Linn officials — Town Board members, department heads — will have another difficult budget season upon them.
Weiss didn't seem phased.
"This isn't going to be the first challenging budget season for the town," he said. "All we can do it just continue to look at the budget more closely and more frequently."