Pulaski County Council, Commissioners Hear Fiscal Planning Proposals

Pulaski County officials continue to consider hiring an outside consultant to help put together a fiscal plan for the county. The county council and commissioners heard presentations from two firms Monday, but no final action was taken by the commissioners. County officials have been looking at adjusting the county’s tax structure for over a year. It currently relies heavily on income taxes, which is expected to become an increasing problem as the county’s population continues to decline.

Umbaugh and Associates offered a proposal to put together a five-year comprehensive financial plan. Executive Partner Todd Samuelson said the firm would interview department heads, compare various expenditures with other counties, and look for any outliers. “So that would be part of the process,” he said, “to kind of look for areas of expenditure: Are there areas that the county can consider alternative approaches? Are there ways to work with other units within the county on something jointly? I don’t know. We don’t know what those might be yet, but that would be part of the process.” Umbaugh would charge an hourly fee, with a maximum cost of $35,000 for the basic plan.

Meanwhile, Peters Municipal Consultants would also put together a planning document containing a “litany” of options for council members to choose from. There would also be public presentations, to help residents understand the decisions that are being made.

However, Jeffrey Peters said his firm would work more with the council and commissioners than department heads. “We do still want to know what their input is,” he explained, “but I’ve always felt like the fiscal plan is more of a higher-level policy-making document that you as the elected bodies want to prepare, show this as the leadership in the county, and then dictate that down the line, in order to get them to conform.” Peters would charge the county $165 an hour, up to a maximum of $24,000 for the initial plan. However, a salary comparison may cost extra.

Following the presentations, council members voted to recommend that the county commissioners move ahead with the project and hire Umbaugh, although they later stressed that the decision was up to them. However, Commissioner Kenny Becker noted that council members had already collected a lot of data, when it comes to salary comparisons, and he didn’t see the need to redo that. Commissioner Mike McClure went a step further, asking if the county could get some free budget help from the state.

Council member Ken Boswell didn’t think that would be enough. “We all have full-time jobs, and we’re not CPAs. We’re not accountants,” he said. “We’re not equipped – I’m not equipped to gather that kind of information, put it in a reasonable portfolio, be able to present it, and be able to argue why this is a good idea, why that’s a good idea, why this option, why not maybe that option. I need that information brought to me.”

In any case, the commissioners wanted more guidelines from the council before proceeding. Boswell agreed to make a list of goals he’d like the plan to accomplish.

At the end of the council’s regular meeting Monday, Community Development Commission Executive Director Nathan Origer urged the commissioners to move forward soon, noting that he first warned county officials about future financial challenges five years ago. “If our county elected officials at that time had had the leadership and fortitude to do what needed to be done instead of keeping their heads buried in the sand, a lot of these problems might have been avoided,” he said. “So please, for the love of God, commissioners, take the council’s recommendation seriously. If you’ve got to take time to decide between Peters and Umbaugh, do something before we have more problems like this.”

He said the county’s declining population will only lead to less revenue and more challenges in the future.