County budget still up in the air
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
The Morgan County Commission has yet to make a solid recommendation for the proposed 2005 General Fund Budget and its $1.3 million deficit.
Commissioners met four times in two weeks to balance the beginning $19.2 million budget and try to make cuts totaling $2.4 million. They will meet again Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 9 a.m. to attempt once again to settle the issue.
While the budget is still in limbo, many departmental issues have been closely examined during the lengthy process.
When departments were asked to reduce their budgets by 10 percent, District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark and District 3 Commissioner Don Stisher also asked that License Commissioner Sue Baker Roan's $109,000 allocation for temporary help be reviewed. They suggested Roan hire two to four full-time employees instead of maintaining seven current temporary workers.
Roan plans to hire four full-time and two part-time employees.
A $130,000 pay upgrade for county deputies was ultimately left in the budget, but debate was sparked again when Clark questioned a 3 percent pay raise for all county employees.
Clark proposed setting the 3 percent increase aside and letting department heads work with Human Resources Director Jack Underwood to set a standard pay scale.
While Clark was not suggesting to cut the increase, Clark and Stisher agreed further cuts were needed to prevent the deficit from being deducted from the county's reserve.
"I don't see why we can't go forth with a deficit. We've been doing it for the past four years," District 2 Commissioner and chairman pro-tem John Glasscock said last Thursday.
"Because somewhere along the way we'll end up without a reserve," Clark replied.
When District 4 Commissioner Stacy George agreed to run with the deficit budget last week, Stisher reminded George he might not have all the facts to make a decision about the budget.
"Stacy, this is the second time you have graced us with your presence at these budget hearings," Stisher said. "You didn't hear all of the departments' requests. We have to draw a line in the sand somewhere with this budget."
When the meeting ended, the proposed budget stood with a deficit of $280,000 if the estimated rollover from the current year's budget could be used as surplus.
Between last Thursday's and this Monday's meetings, Administrator Willa Dockery presented a package explaining why the rollover would not cover the deficit, bringing the figure back to $1.3 million.
However, Dockery also presented figures explaining how the budget would be affected if funds were used from the prior fund balance, estimated actual revenue, and a $1.2 million transfer from the Roads and Bridges account, as requested at the previous meeting. With $18. 2 million in estimated expenditures, the deficit balance would total $5, 524.
The figure included an additional cut of $8,300 from Roan to the License Commission travel budget.
"I'm happy with the budget when we take out this travel item," Glasscock said.
"I'm happy with the budget if we're going to take out the $51,000 for our raises and what John said," George said.
George recommended Monday cutting the 3 percent pay raise for anyone holding a position of political appointment, including commissioners, and department heads. George estimated the cut would save the county $51,000, bringing the fund balance to a surplus of $45,000.
No comment was made neither in favor or nor against the proposed cut by the rest of the commission.
"I think what you're both saying is reckless," Clark said in regards to the Roads and Bridges transfer. "Just remember you're borrowing $1.2 million to fund the general budget."
"I'm done here," George said when Dockery presented figures for each commission district to review. "I think I've looked at enough numbers. Do y'all need me here?"
"That's up to you, Stacy," Stisher replied.
George left the meeting and Dockery asked commissioners to review each of their own budgets and the total budget before it is to be presented Sept. 22.