County budget requests would mean $2 million deficit

Published 11:34 am Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Talk about an empty pocket book.

Lawrence County will wind up more than $2 million in the hole if it completely fills all the budget requests of the various county offices in the coming year.

That was the gist of a budget hearing Tuesday in Lawrence County Commission Chambers.

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Commissioners and other officeholders have started work on a budget for the coming year. The county’s total general fund 2009 budget is anticipated to be $12,854,860. Officeholders have requested $14,987,063. Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens said the purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was to let officeholders see how much money the county will likely have to work with and how they should tailor their requests to match it. One sobering note: Lawrence County will likely have less next year to work with than in years previous.

“Sales taxes are up, barely, but state money to local governments is down and interest income is down,” Lawrence County Chief Deputy Auditor Chris Kline explained.

Figures show the county had $400,000 more in state monies and interest income in 2007 than what is projected in 2009.

“We want them to realize the state is in a budget crisis and this is having an effect on us,” Stephens agreed. “It dramatically affects the county budget.”

If the economy is in a downward trend, crime is not and most of the county’s general fund — more than $7 million — is being requested to fund the sheriff’s office, the courts, adult probation and other aspects of criminal justice.

“Basically, we’re taking care of the bad guys,” Stephens told those at the budget hearing. “That’s what costs us a lot of money.”

County leaders began work a month earlier than last year and Stephens said if the other commissioners are willing, he would like for them to take a little longer than they usually do to put together a permanent budget — they have the option of creating a temporary spending plan for the interim — so they can really delve into the numbers.

In the past commissioners have begun budget work for the new budget after the New Year. Tuesday’s budget hearing was, he said, “a first step in putting all the information out there and see how it shakes out and where we need to go to appropriate a budget. We can’t appropriate money we don’t have.”