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Commissioners address county budget shortfall

Budget problems were the big issue at Thursday night’s county commission meeting. Facing a budgetary shortfall of tens of thousands of dollars, the county commission set out to discuss some of the options available to help determine a course of action. As the first time the full commission had seen the complete budget proposed by the budget committee, County Mayor Larry Potter passed out a list of information indicating where some of the biggest increases had occurred.
Over the past few years investment income has fallen drastically with lowered interest rates. As a result, the county has seen a loss of more than $298,000 in interest earnings in the last five years. Most of that cost has been absorbed by the county fund balance each year, but as losses have increased along with cost increases in several other areas of the budget, the county is now faced with several hard decisions to make.
One of the possibilities which the budget committee recommended was to place a cap of approximately $5,800 for county employee insurance, saving more than $40,000 for the year. Unfortunately this action essentially ends family coverage and would mean that a handful of employees who depend on the insurance would have to make up the significant cost difference beyond the cap. Several employees were present at the meeting to voice their concerns, including Renee Proffit from the County Clerk’s Office. Proffit, who has worked for the county for 11 years, made a plea to the commission to consider other options, stating that for many of the affected employees cutting family insurance would mean having to find a different job.
Mayor Potter also brought up another potential way to save money this year, by cutting funding for a position in the tax assessor’s office. Currently the office operates with four employees, but after discussing the issue with Deputy Assessor Matthew Lewis, Mayor Potter suggested scaling back to three. Factoring in insurance along with salary, cutting this one position would save the county more than $30,000. Lewis, who is running for the position of Assessor of Property, said that he did not see a problem with cutting a position in that office.
Discussing the subject, Chairman Freddy Phipps asked Jerry Jordan, who was present at the meeting to announce his candidacy for property assessor to the commission, whether he felt it would be possible to run the office with the cut. Jordan confirmed that, if elected, he intended to streamline and run the office as efficiently as possible and did not see a problem.
Yet, even with cutting back in several areas the budget committee felt that the commission would still be faced with a potential five cent increase to the property tax to make up the difference. The last county tax increase was an additional 21 cents in 2004 to help pay for the new jail.
Several commissioners voiced concerns about other elements of the budget, with Commissioner Jack Proffitt asking about attempts to collect the large number of unpaid fines owed to the county. Circuit Court Clerk Carolyn Wilson Hawkins had received the support of the commission to pursue the fines at an earlier date, but no update on the situation has been given in several months. Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff also addressed the commission, suggesting that the county speak with its various department heads and elected officials to try to find areas where cuts could be made. One of the most controversial issues discussed was the possibility of giving the county employees a three percent raise to help offset the extra costs for insurance.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.