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Utah County officials already worried about 2011 budget

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PROVO — Months away from drafting an official budget, some Utah County officials already are worried about a shortfall.

If revenues and expenditures continue at their current pace, the county will face a $1.6 million budget shortfall in 2011 and around $5 million in 2012, Commissioner Steve White said during Tuesday's County Commission meeting.

White then asked whether the county should look into cutting $5 million in employee costs, roughly 75 people, or reducing benefits such as insurance premiums and 401(k) contributions.

Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson said the shortfall comes from a drop in sales-tax revenue, which is down 4.6 percent from last year, as well as lower than expected property tax collection because new construction has stalled.

As Utah County's largest department, the sheriff's office would be hit the hardest by any benefit or employee cuts.

"All those numbers are sliding figures," said Sheriff Jim Tracy, noting that budget worries in May are premature. "We don't know what the second, third and fourth quarters will look like."

Utah County operates on a calendar-year budget cycle.

Tracy said his department already has been working to cut costs, including reducing its work force by 24 officers in two years and giving cars double the mileage that other police departments do. But most importantly, Tracy said, his department always comes in under budget.

"We have never spent our entire expenditure," he said. "Last year, we returned $1.2 million."

That money, he says, could take care of the shortfall without cutting any employees or their benefits.

But Thompson said those department returns never materialize as planned and won't cover the budget.

"I look at the numbers," he said. "I can see where there are shortfalls."

Thompson said he's confident the deficit can be made up without cutting employees or benefits.

"Since we're starting the budget process in three months, look carefully at wants versus needs," he said. "There won't be any wants this year, but there will be needs."

The county's official budget planning begins in August.

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