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County keeps focus on budget

Looking at reduced revenues and escalating costs in some areas, the Lawrence County Commission welcomed some good news when they met for budget hearings Tuesday. They also got a suggestion for saving money from one department head.

Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services officials handed in a contract for services that was $268,000 less than the one for this year. Dave McDonald, operations director for SEOEMS, said the contract is $1.024 million

There are two main reasons why. First, the commission earlier this year raised the rates for ambulance services. Also, SEOEMS officials said they have instituted better collection practices that reduces the amount of time between when services are rendered and when the bill for those services is sent to the patient.

Most of the offices Tuesday submitted requests that differed little from the one submitted for this year.

Board of elections

Board of Elections Director Cathy Overbeck did ask for more money to pay for two elections this year, a primary and a general. The elections office’s budget request was $661,000; this year’s budget was $449,000. Overbeck said she hopes the ballots for those elections will be one page, not two, as has been in the past. Bigger ballots cost more money.

The elections board drew praise from the commission for its willingness to pay off two employees this year to balance its budget.

“Thanks for what you’ve done this year. I know you had layoffs and it was difficult but you helped out,” Commissioner Les Boggs said.

“We did out part,” Overbeck agreed. “We realize it was a necessity but it was a busy summer. A lot of people think during the off-season there is not much going on but that’s not true.”

Overbeck said this summer the elections office had to handle the National Change of Address with a skeleton crew.

The change of address work involved mass mailings to thousands of registered voters.

Overbeck said there were other areas, such as supplies, where her office was trying to be frugal.

Commissioner Jason Stephens asked if the board had made any decision on his request to realign precincts. He had approached the board of elections after the presidential election, suggesting that the board redraw precinct boundaries because some precincts handled thousands of voters on election day while other precincts handled only 200 or so.

Stephens said Tuesday he had driven to several polling places in November of this year and thinks redrawing boundaries may not be necessary in some cases.

He said some precincts could be easily combined. He said this would alleviate the need for so many elections workers. The elections office spent $63,000 for extra workers in 2009.

Overbeck said the elections board has combined some polling places, particularly within the city of Ironton.

EMA

Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Boster also drew praise from the commission.

“You’re the first to reduce your budget and I commend you,” Boggs told Boster.

In addition to a budget proposal, Boster brought along a suggestion for saving money, or getting some one else to pay: Boster said the county could save money by placing the care of the entire EMA building under his office.

How? Right now the EMA is reimbursed by the federal government for part of the cost of its utilities. The EMA shares a building with the 911 dispatch and the sheriff’s office. Utility costs are not reimbursed for either of those offices. But if the building were placed in the supervision of the EMA, part of the cost of utilities for the entire building could be reimbursed.

Utility costs for the building are approximately $18,000 a year. Making the change could generate as much as $7,500.

Boster said his office really does need to upgrade some equipment this year and he hopes the money can be found for this.

Boster said he has been operating his office efficiently and in previous years, knowing the county’s financial situation, has sacrificed things he needed.

The EMA office over the years has shrunk. In 2001 there were six employees. Now there is only one: Boster.

The budget hearings continue today.