Officeholders’ budgets will stay steady

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 4, 2000

County commissioners plan to limit officeholders to last year’s expenditures plus a 5 percent salary increase in the 2000 budget.

Tuesday, January 04, 2000

County commissioners plan to limit officeholders to last year’s expenditures plus a 5 percent salary increase in the 2000 budget.

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The county’s Budget Commission reported at Monday’s 3 p.m. officeholder meeting that this year’s general fund, which bankrolls most courthouse offices, will be $9,983,124, with increases only for each office’s line-item salary accounts.

That figure is just under $300,000 more than 1999’s general fund total.

Commissioners cited recent loss of 1,000 manufacturing jobs at Cabletron and Intermet as a reason for the cautious budgeting.

"The county and city have suffered setbacks and we have to be prepared for it," commission president Bruce Trent said. "Preparing now is proactive."

Commissioner Paul Herrell said the county decided to hold the 1999 budget carryover – about $969,000 according to county auditor estimates – in case of emergencies later this year.

"The budget’s in good shape but we don’t know what these job losses will do," Herrell said. "Basically, we want to keep the budget in good shape."

Deputy county auditor Chris Kline, who has been working on the 2000 budget with commission administrator Kathy Fraley, said next week’s final budget will serve as a starting point.

"We’re not cutting anybody," Kline said. "What your expenditures were last year, you’re staying at that level."

The Budget Commission will re-evaluate fund balances in June, to make sure receipts and disbursements balance with this week’s predictions, county auditor Ray Dutey said.

If the general fund comes up short, then belts might have to be tightened. If there’s money to spare, offices might receive funding boosts, Dutey said.

Spending exceptions in the 2000 budget include a 10 percent increase for insurance, more for retirement because that is set as a percentage of salaries and an increase for the election board because it will run two elections instead of one this year, Ms. Fraley said.

And, officeholders will receive a full budget if approved next week – a break from the traditional "temporary" budget process.

Except for some computer data entry, last year’s books have been closed and amounts are known, Kline said.

It will save more time to wait a week for a final budget than to enact a temporary one and then replace it with the final version shortly thereafter, he said.

Officeholders will have to delay payment on purchase orders, but county employee paychecks will be issued as planned this week, Trent said.

County clerk of courts Dale Burcham said offices that tried to conserve funds by not spending all of 1999’s budget will be penalized by the commission’s plan because it’s based on what was spent.

"By officeholders not having spent everything they had last year, that’s what is allowing us to start with giving you what you spent and 5 percent in salary line items," Trent said.

And in June, the county should know whether each office will receive more funds, Dutey said.

Lawrence County Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr., who also serves on the Budget Commission, said he is not happy with the situation, but understands the need for belt-tightening.

"When you lose 1,000 good jobs, it’s bound to have an effect," Collier said.

The general fund budget, unofficial until commissioners give final approval, does not include monies for ambulance services, 911 or the Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency. That funding comes from a 1/2 percent sales tax.

Other agencies like the Department for Human Services, health department, Union-Rome Sewer District, community corrections, municipal courts and the dog pound are funded from separate accounts or special levies.