Bleak. Barebones.

Dismal. Dire.

These aren't words you'd prefer government officials use at any time, let alone to describe its budget. Nonetheless, those adjectives and others came from McCracken County Fiscal Court members this week in an interview with The Sun.

The elected leaders discussed with the newspaper information that first came to the public's attention May 29 -- that county government's budget is roughly $900,000 light for the coming fiscal year (see story, Page 1A).

Its fund balance -- unspent, reserve money key to the county's ability to borrow -- was reduced to about $3 million in 2018, down from $7.2 million in 2012.

Deputy-Judge Executive Steve Doolittle said previous fiscal courts resorted to the fund balance to cover budgetary shortfalls, attributable to rising health insurance costs, debt service and the white whale for every government in Kentucky -- the pension crisis.

The fiscal court and Doolittle, to their credit, haven't played the blame game on past county officials -- at least publicly -- when talking about the budgetary troubles, preferring to address today and tomorrow rather than yesterday.

That's commendable.

"The last couple fiscal courts have taken the approach of be frugal, nibble away at the edges, cut what you can cut, and use the fund balance to fix the budget," Doolittle told The Sun. "It's a fine strategy and I'm not actually critical of it, but it has run its course. It's not sustainable."

Again, to the fiscal court's credit, members seem to recognize the seriousness of the money woes and the imperative to right the course, but aren't keen on taking drastic measures.

Judge-Executive Craig Clymer said laying off employees and/or raising taxes across the board aren't viable options. He suggested possible stopgaps such as reducing paving projects, delaying capital improvements, and instituting a hiring freeze.

"It's time to turn this around," Clymer told the newspaper. "It's nothing we won't work our way out of, but it took a while getting here and it's going to take a little while getting back out."

The fiscal court's attitude and approach in fixing the finances, the editorial board believes, is measured and pragmatic.

However, we'd be remiss to say we aren't concerned.

The budget problems come on the heels of another bit of troubling news -- in 2018, McCracken County had an estimated population decline for the first time in four years (see story, Page 1A). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county had 65,397 residents in 2017; last year, the population estimate dropped to 65,346, a loss of 51 people.

There's not much cause for alarm if the county decline is an anomaly rather than a trend. But look no further than the city of Paducah, which has declined in population in seven of eight years since 2011, for the red flag warning on what the county's decrease could signal for future years.

It will be difficult enough for McCracken to adjust operations with a revenue shortfall. That task is compounded if it's faced with less revenue and a smaller population contributing to the tax base.

One of the immediate actions for the fiscal court in light of its leaner budget should be ceasing, or at least tabling, any talks about potentially acquiring the Paducah Regional Sports Plex.

The purchase has been discussed -- kudos to commissioner Eddie Jones for both raising the issue and suggesting a creative bit of problem solving -- as an answer to improving area recreational opportunities.

However, given the county's current financial state, a $3 million-$5 million expenditure at a time when basic operations are in the red is unwise.

The sports plex, as of now, is a luxury McCracken County cannot afford.

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