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County offices could run short of cash before end of year

At the beginning of the year, Lawrence County Commissioners predicted a tight fiscal year ahead, with state dollars at a premium and costs for everything from liability insurance to workers compensation increasing.

Turns out, the predictions are close to coming true. Lawrence County Auditor Ray Dutey and Chief Deputy Auditor Chris Kline gave a mid-year report to the commission Tuesday.

County offices could be $378,699 over budget if spending continues at its current level. Kline blames state funding cuts and a severe tax overpayment plan in part for the fiscal problems.

Expenditures for all county offices through June 27 are $5,998,611.92 - more than 6 percent higher than the same period last year. According to the auditor's office report, the county's worker's compensation costs are nearly 172 percent above last year's amounts. As of June 30, the county has exceeded last year expenditures.

This is at a time when the local sales tax is down, and the state has cut the amount of money it gives local governments.

Kline said that in July, officials in Columbus cut the amount of money Lawrence County receives as its portion of Local Government Funds, in order to balance the state budget.

"If it (Local Government Fund allotment) had not been cut, Lawrence County would have received $102, 229. But we got cut. For July, we got $37,252. For the rest of the year we were cut to the level of money we received for the last two years. They held us steady,"Kline said. Local Government Fund allotments vary from month to month.

"The state is causing us the most problems. They're balancing their budgets on the backs of local governments, at a time when they are mandating things without providing any money for these mandates whatsoever," Kline said.

Additionally, the county is taking in less money from its half-percent sales tax as compared with the same time last year. The county's half percent sales tax to pay for emergency services, 911 and the county's EMA office brought in $1,378,534.07 through the end of June. That's approximately five percent less than for the same period last year.

Local officials also blame a tax overpayment problem in part for their fiscal woes (See related story).

Meanwhile, county officials are considering their options for dealing with the fiscal situation.

"My suggestion is that the commission meet with officeholders, and tell them exactly what the situation is and now wait until October," Dutey said.

Dutey advised against a county-wide spending freeze, and Commissioner Doug Malone agreed.

"The thing about a spending freeze is that is even penalizes those who have lived within their budgets. A spending freeze would affect everyone," Malone said.

Patterson said even with the state funding cuts, most officeholders knew the budget would be tight, and knew to live within the money allotted them at the beginning of the year.

"Once we make budget, everyone knows what the budget is and is responsible for administering it. This office will end in the the black, no doubt about it," Patterson said.

Dutey said the county could see some additional monies when the Lawrence County Prosecutor's Office conducts a land sales to collect delinquent taxes. Still, local schools districts will get 80 percent of that money.