Budget passed?

Published 9:55 am Friday, January 29, 2016

Commissioners create budget for more money then is available

A record $17 million budget has been passed unanimously by the Lawrence County Commission about a month later than it typically comes up with one, but before the state-mandated deadline of April 1.

However, after a review by the county auditor’s office, there still isn’t a budget because it doesn’t balance.

“There are several math errors. It doesn’t balance and it is over-appropriated,” chief deputy auditor Chris Kline said.

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The budget came after the commissioners went into an hour-long open-door recess from their regularly scheduled Thursday meeting and passed it at around 11:30 a.m.

The first time the auditor’s office saw the appropriations was Thursday afternoon.

“It is just the general fund where the issue is,” Lawrence County Auditor Jason Stephens said.

In December the budget commission, made up of Stephens, the county treasurer and county prosecutor, certified $11,616,395 for the general fund. However the commissioners have appropriated $11,709,177 or $92,782 that doesn’t exist.

“It is hard to say who got what out of the budget because it doesn’t balance,” Stephens said. “It won’t let you enter it in the computer if it doesn’t add up right.”

Now the commissioners must determine what line items must be reduced to make up the deficit.

When notified of the auditor’s findings Lawrence County Commission President Les Boggs said he didn’t think that the budget that was passed did balance and had asked the other commissioners if it balanced. He said the one he presented did balance.

“They said, “It balances, it balances.’ I don’t think that balances, but if it balances I don’t have a problem but I don’t think it does,” Boggs said.

Commissioner Bill Pratt when notified said he didn’t understand why it didn’t.

“We will have to correct it next week,” he said. “That is not a problem. We will have to all look it all over and straighten it out.”

One of the largest increases supposedly went to the sheriff’s office with $325,000 more in 2016 than last year. That total budget is $3,749,867.42. Included in that is $30,000 for gasoline to transport inmates to out-of-county jails; $20,000 for equipment and $14,450 for training, according to the document.

There is also an extra $70,000 for road deputies’ salaries because there is an extra pay period in 2016. Total road deputy salary appropriation is $935,000. Staff salary appropriation is $184,000 with corrections officers allotted $680,000.

“I haven’t gotten to see the budget but from what I have been told extra funds were put into jail expenditures and out of county housing and for me to shore up payroll I will have to do transfers to make that happen,” Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said. “I am concerned about my budget.”

Earlier in that meeting Lawless expressed his concern that since a budget had not been passed, without an influx of additional money, 911 payroll couldn’t be met, according to information he had received from the auditor’s office.

Lawless also requested funding to add five additional corrections officers so 911 dispatchers can do that job full-time as part of the original plan to merge sheriff’s and 911 dispatching. Right now, dispatchers have to monitor jail cameras and act as matrons.

The sheriff estimated that cost would be $270,000 not counting overtime.

There is no specific appropriation for that money in the new budget.

“It would be up to the sheriff,” Pratt said, if Lawless took that salary expense from the 2016 increase.

Overall there was a $300,000 increase in offices’ salaries because of that extra pay period in 2016, the commission budget states.

Another significant increase was in the budget for the county treasurer going from $227,831 to $434,631. There is a $40,000 increase in supplies; $3,000 increase for travel and a $16,000 increase for professional services. Staff salary appropriations are now at $92,000. The auditor’s budget increased by $168,150 with more than half of that for the 27th pay. Staff salary appropriations are at $437,000. The recorder’s budget went up almost $40,000, with almost 70 percent going toward the extra pay. Staff salary appropriations are at $153,300.

The county prosecutor’s budget increased $152,823 going from $1,067,240 to $1,220,063.32. Staff salary appropriations are at $634,000.

Health insurance premiums increased 3.1 per cent and the EMS’ budget increased by $100,000. An appropriation of $25,000 is for capital improvements at the courthouse; $20,000 for the health department for cervical cancer detection equipment; $10,000 for the senior citizens center; $10,000 for a humane officer, a position currently not filled and $30,000 for the fair board.

Before the commissioners went into the recess, commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. defended the delay in coming up with the appropriations.

“We took criticism,” Hayes said. “The way I feel about it is it is not about the budget. It is about a fair budget. We want to take care of everybody. That is why it has taken so long.”

However, until the errors are corrected and the over-appropriation rectified, the county finances remain in limbo.

“It is just not correct,” Stephens said. “We are trying to do our part, but when the math doesn’t work, we can’t do what we are supposed to do.”