The state department responsible for overseeing local government budgeting has rejected parts of the 2011 St. Joseph County budget, citing insufficient projected revenue.
According to county Auditor Pete Mullen, the Department of Local Government Finance decision effectively reduces the $66 million budget by about 2.4 percent, or about $1.6 million.
Most affected by the reductions are the cumulative and major cumulative bridge funds, both of which finance bridge projects in the county.
The DLGF reduced the cumulative fund by about 36 percent, from $1.5 million to about $954,000, and the major cumulative fund by about 23 percent, from $2.3 million to about $1.7 million
Both funds are supported by property tax revenue, which has been on the decline the past several years because of the economy and state-mandated property tax caps.
"Replacement, maintenance, rehabilitation ... anything we need to do to keep a bridge operable, clear, and safe of debris, those funds are used 100 percent," county engineer Jessica Clark said, noting that the county is responsible for the upkeep of 253 bridges.
The other affected funds include the park and recreation fund, which the DLGF reduced from about $1.5 million to about $1.4 million, and the highway fund, which it reduced from about $5.7 million to about $5.2 million.
The county plans to augment the highway fund, which is supported largely by gas taxes, with economic development income tax money, Deputy Auditor Cindy Bodle said, though no such plans exist for the other funds.
Park and Recreation Director Evie Kirkwood could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Clark said the reductions to the two bridge funds could affect the county’s ability to finance planned bridge projects.
Of particular concern, she said, is the amount of money cut from the cumulative fund, which finances projects for the 232 bridges in the county that measure less than 200 feet in length.
"It’s definitely going to be a challenge to maintain the bridge system on $300,000 a year," she said, referring to the amount now available in the fund after adjusting for previously budgeted expenses.
As a result of the reductions, three or four minor culvert replacement projects have already been dropped from the bridge program for this year, Clark said, and two other locally financed projects – Spruce Road over Pine Creek and Beech Road over Grimes Ditch – face possible elimination.
Only time will tell whether the reductions ordered the by the state represent a new reality for the county or a one-time hit.
Asked her opinion of the matter, Clark responded: "I’m hoping that question will eventually be answered, but, right now, I’m working under the assumption that this is what the appropriation is going to be in the future."
Staff writer Erin Blasko: