Troubled Finances

Published 11:07 pm Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lawrence County Commissioners this week are likely to begin work on a budget for the coming year.

State law requires counties to have a temporary budget in place by Dec. 31 and a permanent budget in place by March 31. Commissioner Jason Stephens said he would like to have the permanent spending plan approved by the end of the year, instead of waiting until after 2009 begins so that each officeholder knows what they have to spend before the New Year begins.

Requests for appropriations thus far have outpaced resources by $2 million.

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“Obviously, if we’re having shortfalls, it helps everyone to know as soon as possible what they’re dealing with,” Stephens said.

Revenue source

The bulk of the county’s general fund budget — 45 percent, or roughly $4.2 million comes from the sales tax and roughly $2 million, or 10 percent of the budget comes from real estate taxes.

Stephens pointed out that most of the money from real estate taxes actually goes to the area’s schools. Only a small part goes to county government. The county gets roughly $1.1 million a year from Local Government Fund money from the state. The rest of the general fund budget comes from various fees and other sources of revenue, such as interest income.

Commission President Doug Malone said he thinks the carryover from 2008 into 2009 might be a little larger than what was carried over from 2007 into 2008, but he isn’t sure yet on what the actual final numbers will be.

There is some good news on the economic front. Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton sent a memo to the commissioners, advising them that department could pare $61,000 — possibly even more — from his budget request for the New Year. He had originally requested $2,843,879.74. But Sexton said actual insurance figures are $40,000 less than he had previously calculated. Then, with the recent drop in gasoline prices, he is purchasing fuel at .35 cents a gallon less than he was earlier this year and this will result in a shift of $21,000 — and maybe more.

“If fuel stays at $2 or below we will expect an additional savings of $12,000-$15,000,” Sexton said in his memo.

Number- crunching is likely to begin Tuesday at the commission’s weekly work session.

General fund

Some offices have asked for the same or less money than they were appropriated in 2008. One of them is Ironton Municipal Court.

Judge O. Clark Collins has asked for $7,000 less in 2009 than he got from the county in 2008. He was not immediately available for comment.

The auditor’s office has asked for $ 42,000 less for its bureau of inspection. Chief Deputy Auditor Chris Kline said last year, the auditor’s office needed the additional money to pay for the state performance audit. With the audit completed, the money is not necessary.

“We won’t need it next year because we’re not doing any special audits,” Kline said.

The requests for funding for the sheriff’s office line item for jail expenses, county maintenance staff, county court security, engineer’s office, law library and the commissioners themselves reflect a zero increase. The recorder’s office has asked for less than one percent increase for 2009 — $2,222.89 more than was appropriated last year.

Other offices have asked for more money for the coming year.

The biggest increase requested was from the prosecutor’s office — $370,371.88. Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr. is closing his private practice and becoming a full-time prosecutor, and this will mean a salary increase to $115,000 from $65,000.

But Collier said the increase also reflects the fact the county now passes the cost of such necessities as workers compensation and Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) contributions to each individual office instead of paying it out in a lump sum. His office’s increase reflects these costs.

The sheriff’s office request, with the $61,000 adjustment taken into account, was $170,921.74 more than what was appropriated in 2008.

The board of elections requested $169,256.64 more for 2008 than what was appropriated in 2008. Elections Director Cathy Overbeck said there are a couple of reasons why the increase is needed.

“We know of a bunch of bills from this year that have not been paid,” she said. “They will need to be paid next year. Also, we have three opportunities for special elections and in the event there is one, we need to be prepared. Last year, the budget didn’t reflect a two-page ballot (in the general election). We need to be prepared for these expenses. Even though they are charged back (to other entities requesting the special election) we have to pay them first.”

Other sources

Some offices will make up for reduced appropriations by seeking grants or using state or federal monies allotted to their office to make up for reduced county funds. One of them is the sheriff’s office. In a memo to the commission, Sexton said he opened a Rome Township substation earlier this year without cost to the county by making crime pay — literally.

“All construction was completed with donated labor and materials purchased from drug forfeiture funds,” Sexton said in his memo. Often, those who are convicted of drug charges are required to relinquish any cash found on them at the time of their arrest — money that was the result of their drug peddling.

Sexton also pointed out that he got a grant to pay for a $38,000 fingerprint machine.

“Grant funds and special contractual agreements over the past eight years have exceeded $1 million,” Sexton said. “These funds have supported such programs as the drug task force, overtime reimbursement, crime prevention, and updated technology and computer equipment.”

Donations, drug forfeiture funds and an agreement with the Lawrence County Juvenile/Probate Court pays for two K-9 units that are used in drug searches, tracking and apprehending suspects, and drug education in the schools.