Budget Crisis

Published 10:23 am Friday, July 31, 2009

They’ve whittled away a little of the problem, but new figures released earlier this week shows Lawrence County officials are still grappling with a projected shortfall of $841,578.24, with five months left in the year.

According to information from the Lawrence County Auditor’s Office, 11 salary line items will run out of money well before the last payroll of the year. They are the prosecutor’s office, slated to run out of payroll funds by the Oct. 2 payroll, common pleas court employees, slated to run out of payroll funds by the Nov. 13 payroll, domestic relations, Oct. 30, clerk of courts, Nov. 13, adult probation, Sept. 4, group home salaries, Oct. 16, board of elections, Dec. 11, jail staff, Sept. 18, sheriff’s road patrol, Oct. 30, courthouse security salaries, Sept. 18 and treasurer employees, Oct. 16. Additionally, four other general fund line items will finish the year in a deficit unless given an infusion of cash before Dec. 31.

They are worker’s comp, $400; county court attorney fees, $30,000; juvenile court attorney fees, $10,000; and common pleas court attorney fees, $40,000.

“It’s not shocking,” Chris Kline, chief deputy auditor, said. “We’ve talked about this all year.”

Lawrence County Commissioner Doug Malone said the county’s budget may be discussed at today’s commission meeting (the meeting was moved from its regular Thursday slot to Friday this week) but said it is more likely to get lengthy perusal at the 9:30 a.m. Tuesday work session next week.

“We’re going to have to get our heads together and see what moves to make,” Malone said. He said he didn’t want to comment further until commissioners had had a chance to study the figures.

Some movement

Kline said the board of elections did lay off two employees earlier this year but auditor’s projections take into account plans to bring back these two employees at election time.

If they are brought back, their salaries will create a $7,100 shortfall before the last December payroll. Before the layoffs, the board of elections was slated to have a salary line item deficit of $20,161.

Other offices have also shaved off their projected deficits. The prosecutor’s office had been projected to have a $158,630 deficit when the May projections were made. That amount has been cut by more than $48,000. The treasurer’s office’s projected deficit has been whittled by more than $6,300.

Treasurer Stephen Dale Burcham said he does not anticipate running out of money to make payroll. He said in the first part of the year he has part-timers working during first-half tax collections, typically the largest of the two collection periods.

Those part-timers don’t work the latter part of the year. However, the budget projections show these employees working all 12 months. He has no part-timers working now.

“I think I’ll have sufficient funds to meet salary requirements,” Burcham said.

Off the list

Some line items that were in trouble as late as May are no longer on the projected shortfall list.

The prosecutor’s office was budgeted for a part-time investigator and that job has apparently not been filled, leaving a balance, not a deficit.

Probate court employees were on the projected shortfall list when May projections were released and were projected to run out of money by the Sept. 4 payroll. Such is not the case now.

Juvenile court employees were slated to run out of money by Aug. 21. Additionally, PERS was projected to have a $14,728 deficit by the end of the year. That is no longer the case.

Lawrence County Juvenile Probate Judge David Payne said projections released earlier in the year that showed deficits in the probate court and juvenile court salaries line items did not take into account outside sources of income, such as the 4-D contract with Lawrence County Job and Family Services and special projects money, that are used to pay salaries of some employees thus alleviating some of the burden on the county general fund and these salary line items.

“We have to present in our budget what we need to cover salaries for the year and these payments for the most part flow through the general fund,” Payne explained. “However, we have certain funds not in the general fund that can be used to pay salaries.”

Payne said state grant dollars are used to pay the salaries of some employees. Outside sources of income will be used to cover the cost of salaries at the Dennis J. Boll Group and Shelter Home, which operates through his office.

Other officeholders will be able to erase their negative projections because they also have other, outside (non-general fund) sources of money they can use to supplement what they don’t get from the county. Grants, state and federal funding would be non-general fund sources of income.

However, grants are typically given very specific purposes and not all grants can be used to pay salaries; some can. Common pleas court, which supervises domestic relations, courthouse security and adult probation, and the clerk of courts office, are on the list of offices that can supplement county dollars with money from outside sources.

Not on the list

Some offices have not been projected to run out of payroll monies this year, among them the auditor’s office, commissioners office, recorder’s office, 911 dispatch and emergency management agency.

Salaries for the engineer’s office are not paid out of general fund monies.