County receives #036;348,000 for payroll

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 14, 2007

For Lawrence County employees, it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief.

The Lawrence County Commission Thursday appropriated $348,000 to make payroll for the end of the year. But commissioners admitted that while employees will get a paycheck, some bills won’t be paid and next year’s budget doesn’t appear to look much better.

Of the $348,000 allotted Tuesday, $225,000 was unappropriated money from the county’s half-cent sales tax; another $78,500 was unappropriated interest income from the county recorder’s, treasurer’s and auditor’s offices. Lawrence County Common Pleas Judges Charles Cooper and D. Scott Bowling combined to contribute $19,500 in unused funds in their offices and Lawrence County Juvenile Probate Judge David Payne contributed $25,000. In addition to the $348,000, the $30,000 Municipal Court Judge Donald Capper will contribute out of his own special projects account to pay his own employees should erase the $378,000 payroll concern.

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“If the judges had not come forward, we would not have been able to make it to the end of the year,” Commissioner Doug Malone said.

But commissioners said they have no money to allot for some bills, such as indigent defense, through the end of the year, meaning the new year will start with old bills left unpaid. Commissioners predict next year’s spending plan will be as lean as — if not learner than — this year’s budget.

For one thing,

carryover from the half-cent sales tax will likely not be as large as in previous years.

Commissioner Jason Stephens said last year, the county carried over $376,000 from its half-cent sales tax into 2007. But this year, county officials are projecting the number will only be $150,000. The sales tax, originally meant to pay for emergency services such as ambulance service, 911 and the county’s emergency management agency, is often used to help make ends meet in other areas.

And another issue is health insurance for county employees. Malone said health insurance costs are expected to raise 6.48 percent next year— taking an additional $278,000 chunk out of the county’s budget.

“That’s really low if you’re a business person. There are some places where insurance rates have gone up 12, 14, 16 percent,” he said. “But it is a $278,000 budget increase.”

Commissioners said they are looking forward to the completion of the state’s performance audit that they hope will shed some light on ways the county might save money.

The issue of money — where it comes from and where it goes —

got the bulk of attention at Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioners voted 2-1 to ask Lawrence County Auditor Ray T. Dutey to put together a series of reports on such things as outstanding purchase orders, monthly budget statements for each of the offices and records of other expenditures and financial figures.

They also voted 2-1 to ask him to provide copies of budgets for the past four years.

The requests were initiated by newly-appointed commissioner Tanner Heaberlin, who said that since he came to office late in the year on the death of the late George Patterson, he needed to be “brought up to speed.”

“I’m behind,” he said. “I came in three-fourths of the way through the year. I’m not attacking. All I want is information,” Heaberlin said. “The only thing I want to do is open discussion. I need information and the easiest way to get it is ask people.”

But Stephens, who cast the lone vote against the requests, countered Heaberlin’s actions were unnecessary because Heaberlin could get much of the information just by asking Dutey for it. He

suggested Heaberlin’s requests were “grandstanding.”

“I think you could have done this without making a spectacle,” Stephens said.

Heaberlin denied he was grandstanding and was only looking for information.

Dutey attended the meeting and said he would be happy to accommodate the request.