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County to vote on budget Thursday

At their Tuesday meeting, Decatur County Commissioners responded to comments made by citizens at the June 8 public hearing on the county’s proposed budget.

Commissioners also heard from County Treasurer Claude Shirley, who asked them to consider making alternative budget cuts instead of adopting the present budget, which would require a property tax increase.

Commissioners are considering raising the county’s millage rate from 8.56 to 9.36 mills.

Members of the Board of Commissioners’ Finance Committee—Earl Perry, Russell Smith and Frank Loeffler—took turns reading from a three-page written response that is available for viewing on www.thepostsearchlight.com

County officials had previously stated that $600,000 is owed to the county in delinquent taxes. However, Commissioner Loeffler clarified that is the total amount of county taxes owed to the Tax Commissioner, who also collects for the Board of Education. Loeffler said $400,000 are owed in school taxes; $200,000 is owed for county government.

“We’ve asked [Tax Commissioner] Don Belcher to be aggressive as he can but he is already following procedures set by state law [to collect the taxes owed],” Loeffler said.

It is also not feasible for the county to draw from its general fund balance, as it did in past years. That’s because the fund has been relied upon so much that only a minimum amount needed to keep the county’s month-to-month operation going is left, according to county officials. The county had a fund balance of about $7.8 million as of June 30, 2010.

Of that amount, $1.1 million is set aside in cash for the county’s pension fund. The unrestricted cash available to the county—that is, its liquid assets—is only about $1.3 million, whereas the monthly cost of operating the county government is a little less than $2 million per month. That minimum reserve has to be kept on hand to keep things going while taxes are being collected during October through December.

Other cuts?

Among the other items addressed in the public responses on the budget was the statement that the county administrator and finance director conducted a detailed review of the proposed budget again after last week’s meetings.

“Reduction in workforce, employee benefits, overtime, supplies, privatization of certain county functions, increased landfill revenue and cash carry forward were items reviewed by staff,” but no additional cuts beyond the $1,266,000 that had already been made were found, Perry said.

However, Shirley said commissioners could dig deeper to find savings. He suggested consolidating certain administrative positions in county government, look at selling the profitable U.S. 27 South landfill, try harder to keep vehicles and equipment last longer, privatize Emergency Medical Services, stop use of consultants and place additional restrictions on the use of county vehicles in an attempt to save more on fuel costs.

County commissioners will consider final adoption of the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget on Thursday at 6 p.m. They will meet in the boardroom of the County Administration building at 203 W. Broughton St. Commissioners plan to hold an executive session to discuss a personnel matter after the agenda business concludes.