Archived Story

Commissioners: Tough times ahead

Published 11:05am Friday, December 21, 2012

Budget for 2013 approved;  next year’s revenue down

 

Revenue expected to come into Lawrence County for 2013 is down almost $400,000 leaving commissioners warning that belt-tightening will be the norm.

“Times are tough,” Commission President Les Boggs said at Thursday’s meeting where the commissioners adopted a $13,911,305 budget out of certified revenue of $14,306,610.

“We will do everything we can to operate the county in a frugal manner,” Boggs said. “We had some challenges. Insurance went up by 8 percent. This budget looks pretty bleak. Live within your budget. There are no extras.”

Last year the county certified $14,704,358 for a budget of $13,181,135 that gave a carryover of $940,000. However, the actual spending was $14.5M in 2012.

This year commissioners have cut the amount of carryover to go into 2014 to $395,305.

“We have a tough year,” Commissioner Freddie Hayes said. “We have to be very conservative.”

The main way the budget cuts have been implemented for 2013 come from an across the board 23.5 percent cut in salary line items for all offices.

If individual offices need to make cuts to stay within their appropriation, they can either reduce staff salaries or cut staff, if employees work for a union-mandated wage, Commissioner Bill Pratt said.

The few increases in appropriations for next year over this year came in the jail fund that went from $325,000 to $400,000 and the 911dispatching fund. That was $455,000 in 2012 but will be $625,000 next year.

However, Lawless doesn’t see that as sufficient for running his office.

“They cut just about everywhere,” he said. “You have to lump all the money to keep the operation going. I don’t see how we will make it through. I couldn’t make it through 2012. I will be $750,000 less across the board. There will have to be some serious decisions on the operation of the sheriff’s office.”

This time the commissioners appropriated the same amount for the Lawrence County EMS — $1 million. However during 2012 $155,000 was added to that department.

Despite creating a stringent budget, Pratt said the county needs to start considering other sources of revenue besides the ones that currently make up the money available to appropriate: property tax, sales tax, local government funds and the casino funds.

For many years the state-directed local government funding provided at least 10 percent of the money coming into the county. However the state has steadily cut that stream of revenue. In 2000 LGF made up 11.4 percent of the county’s revenue while this year that figure dropped to 7.5 percent.

A possible way to offset that loss could come from the revenue from the four new casinos that have opened up in the state. Casinos must pay 33 percent tax on their gross revenues with counties getting 51 percent of that.

However two of those casinos have seen their gross revenue drop each month since opening in the spring. For the 2013 budget the auditor’s office has certified that revenue at $500,000.

One new source of revenue could come from a utility tax that the commission would impose of up to 2 percent of the consumer bills on electric, natural gas and phone.

“If the jail were not able to operate, we could create revenue within 60 days,” Pratt said. “This would only be for emergencies. It is fair amount for every resident in the county.”

With a utility tax, consumers could regulate the amount of tax they pay as they regulate their utility use, Pratt said.

Another possible revenue source would be a levy on the ballot to fund the sheriff’s office including the jail operation. Voters, not the commission, would decide if that levy would be imposed on all property owners.

“I feel like the taxpayers are certainly overburdened now,” Lawless said. “I don’t think they could absorb any more taxes. You have to weigh what your safety and protection cost these days.”

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