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Commission eyes Columbus before making many money changes

Until the state gets a budget in place, the philosophy of the Lawrence County Commission is to stay put, with a couple of exceptions, when it comes to giving officeholders more money.

At its meeting today or next Thursday, the commission plans to appropriate $10,000 for County Engineer Doug Cade.

When the latest budget was put in place in December 2012, officeholders were told to cut back almost 25 percent in their salary line item. To do that Cade shut down the tax map section of his office on Fridays and a half hour the other days from noon to 12:30 p.m. That is the only part of the county engineer’s office that gets its money from the general fund. The majority of Cade’s office is funded from the Motor Vehicle Gas Tax. State constitution prohibits Cade from spending any of that money on anything other than roads and bridges.

“With summer and the weather getting nice, the tax map area of his department gets really busy,” Commission President Bill Pratt said. “People are starting to buy a home or sell a home or transfer property. This will handle that extra business.”

Since that part of the engineer’s office has only one employee, the only way to make the mandated salary cuts was to cut office hours.

“That has affected the service we provided to people,” Cade said. “What we are asking is to restore the budget to bring that employee back to five days a week to provide that service.”

Another officeholder’s request will be filled, but not out of the general fund. For several weeks County Treasurer Stephen Burcham has asked for an additional appropriation to his supplies fund to cover the cost of printing the second half tax bills.

To pay that print charge a transfer of approximately $9,000 will be taken from the real estate assessment fund. That fund pays for all real estate related activities conducted by the County Auditor’s office, including the aerial photography to record properties.

Other than that, the commission will wait to see what happens in Columbus as far as the new allotment from the Local Government Fund and the casino revenue.

Right now before Cade’s appropriation there is $194,000 in certified revenue that the commission has not appropriated. Currently there is legislation proposed that could change how the Local Government Funds are distributed, giving more to villages and townships.

“If it is not flat funded and say Lawrence County loses $300,000,” Pratt said. “We have to be careful until we know what it going to happen.”

One bright spot is that casino revenue for the first two quarters has come in higher than the $500,000 certified by the county budget commission. The first quarter came in at $144,000 or $19,000 more than anticipated and the second quarter at $172,000 or $47,000 more than expected.

If that trend continues and Local Government Fund is either flat or more than anticipated, there could be additional appropriations.

“The next quarterly (casino) payment will be in July and they will have the budget out of the way (in Columbus),” Pratt said. “I am pretty confident we will see a certification and resolve some of these issues. But I caution officeholders to be diligent about keeping costs low.”