Citing a multi-million dollar property tax revenue shortfall, St. Joseph County leaders have asked department heads to slash their 2014 budgets by 3 percent by next Friday.
A memorandum dated Thursday and signed by Board of Commissioners President Andy Kostielney, County Council Board President Rafael Morton and county Auditor Pete Mullen asked for a hiring freeze in all departments that get funding from the General, Health, Park and Recreation, Reassesment, Cumulative Capital Development, Cumulative Bridge and Major Cumulative Bridge .
Officials also are requiring a mandatory pay freeze for county employees in those departments.
Kostielney said he, Morton and Mullen made the decision a few days ago to slash budgets.
"We were hoping that the property tax collection would be higher than it was," he said by phone Friday. "We're trying to take proactive measures. We do this now to avoid drastic measures later."
As for the 2015 budget, there’s a mandatory 5 percent reduction on top of the 3 percent requested for 2014. Kostielney said he thinks most departments will be able to make the cuts, as departments had just submitted budgets for review in the past few weeks.
"What folks had already submitted was a good base," he said.
If possible, departments could also move the 5 percent to another revenue stream that doesn't come from property taxes, such as user fees.
Nothing's off the table for consideration, Kostielney added. There's even possibility that the county could consider axing the leaf pickup program, but probably not for this fall.