County facing more debt?

Published 9:02 pm Monday, February 23, 2009

It looks like the Pike County Commission may be digging its way back into a familiar hole — debt.

After steadily working to pay off some $10 million in debt, the commission may be faced with no other choice but to borrow once again.

With a road department that doesn’t have enough to pay this months bills and a general fund watching its income steadily shrink, commissioners said Monday they may have no other choice.

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“If we have to borrow money, that’s what we’ll do,” said Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan.

In Monday’s commission meeting, County Engineer Russell Oliver asked commissioners to borrow money from the general fund budget, which includes all county needs except the road department, just to make it through the month.

The only problem is the general fund budget may be soon following the road department in shortage.

“Sales taxes are down 5.82 percent,” said County Administrator Harry Sanders. “We need to work closely with Russell on a day to day basis to try to manage cash flow.”

At the rate things are now, Sanders said he projects the budget may come out some $72,000 short at the end of the year. That comes after the commission already approved a budget with a projected $85,000 in surplus.

Commissioners made no decisions as to how they will handle budget situations, but they all agreed on one thing — something has to be done.

“I sit here at this table along with three other commissioners that have faced this before about the engineer department,” said Commissioner Charlie Harris. “We don’t want Russell’s department to actively go into the hole, and the general fund doesn’t have that kind of money.”

And now, some commissioners are regretting the decision they made in September to offer 3-percent pay raises to all county employees.

“When we did this budget, we weren’t thinking firmly. We knew we weren’t really able to give raises and we did,” said Commissioner Homer Wright. “We’re going to have to say no at least one year.”

Commissioner Jimmy Barron, who voted against raises in the budget originally, said he agrees.

“I voted against the budget not because I didn’t want the county employees to have raises, but because I didn’t want us to get to where we are today,” Barron said.

As a potential ease to budget deficits, the commission also revisited a proposal to implement a county-wide lodging tax on hotels in Pike County, voting this time unanimously to send it to the legislature.

After a 3-2 vote to approve the tax last time, Alabama legislators said they would not bring the bill forward for vote. Now, if it passes the legislature in 2010, residents will have a chance to vote for the proposal.

“I voted for it because it is going to be a referendum to be voted on by the people,” said Sullivan, who previously voted in opposition of the proposal.

Also, commissioners approved a case-by-case hiring freeze on all vacant positions in Pike County. This will give the commission the authority to examine if positions are really needed in the county should they become vacant.