County manager Mike Ruffin's budget presentation tonight prefaced a discussion of the school board's budget request with an image of, literally, an elephant in the room -- that elephant being the outstanding item of the schools' budget increase request, the only point of dissension between county administrators and any department on this budget.
And, oh, what an elephant it is. And Tuesday night, it wasn't appearing in an empty room, either.
A standing-room only crowd turned out for the budget presentation -- many of County-funded department heads and managers appeared, providing a visible show of support from County government leaders for a budget that Ruffin calls the most challenging in his years of local government management.
We'll take here a high-level look at the County budget, a subject we'll return to in more depth in the coming days -- including, but by no means limited to, a look at the DPS-County differences on budget.
The overall picture. Although there's a nominal increase in the County budget for next year, Ruffin noted that the key driver there are passthrough payments, the social services dollars funded at the state and federal level over which the County has no job but disbursement.
And requests for public assistance like WIC, food stamps, and the like are certainly up, by an estimated $49 million next year, or 15%. Yet when these external funds are set aside, the average department budget level will decline 6.6% -- except for DPS and Durham Tech, both recommended for a 2.8% decrease.
The total budget rises just under 4% from last year, though once pass-through funds are excluded, a $22.4 million decrease (6.2%) in spending is at hand.