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County begins budget process

After taking an initial look at next year’s budget, Pike County Commissioners can already see where the bulk of their challenges will lie — the road department.

With $773,000 as the estimated amount just to match anticipated federal and state grants, the commission will have to choose to forfeit those projects or come up with some funding source before the next budget year begins Oct. 1.

This comes after the Pike County Road Department has already taken a $141,000 loan this year to match a similar project.

“The statement we made for the last two years, is if we are going to keep our roads and bridges running we are going to have to have more revenue,” County Engineer Russell Oliver said.

News was a little brighter for the county’s General Fund, which manages revenues and expenditures of all county offices except the road department.

Elected officials attended the meeting to present individual budget proposals to commissioners and nearly each department had managed to make smaller budgets.

“Even with projected lower revenue than last year, all elected officials have taken note of that and tried to cut corners to help us have a balanced budget,” Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan said. “I knew they were working hard on their budgets.”

The total proposed budget for the general funds’ revenue is $5.1 million, compared to last year’s actual budget of $5.2 million.

If those numbers held true, the county would be left with $126,000 in excess funds, something that is concerning to several commissioners.

“The big concern to me is there is $126,000 in reserve,” District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Barron said. “The way the economy is now, that’s not much in reserve.”

With excess in the General Fund, County Administrator Harry Sanders said it would be possible to transfer money to the road department to make up for its shortfalls. But, it would take a lot more cutting in the budget for any excess to even make a dent.

Some other commissioners have potential solutions in mind.

District 5 Commissioner Charlie Harris said he has not made a final call, but he may lobby to change the employee salary policy and not give the annual 3-percent raises to employees.

“I can’t say I want to do this for sure,” Harris said. “I’m going to weigh my options, and by the time it comes to a final vote I’ll make a decision. Just for this year, we need to ask if we can do it during this budget.”

Harris was not alone on the issue.

“The budget as a whole could be good, but I don’t see where we could come up with 3-percent cost of living raise and feel comfortable about it,” District 1 Commissioner Homer Wright said. “It’s that policy to give raises, but it doesn’t mean we have to do it when you really can’t afford it.”

The county budget as proposed still includes $27,600 for commissioners’ discretionary funds, an account which those elected officials can make appropriations to agencies or travel.

While Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas, Revenue Commissioner Curtis Blair, Probate Judge Wes Allen and Emergency Management Agency Director Larry Davis all reported budgets under last year’s, there was one official who asked for more.

Pike County Coroner Jerry Williams, who is now only paid $33.33 each month, plus $2,400 in expenses for the year, came seeking some changes.

Williams said in hopes of making the position more appealing to whomever will eventually take over, he has asked for income at least level to his expenses.

Williams submitted a request for a $6,000 annual salary in addition to $8,000 in expense payments.

“This is a break even budget,” Williams said. “It’s not a lot of encouragement for someone else to take this position.”

District 4 Commissioner Ray Goodson, at least, was on board with Williams’ request.

“At least your expense payment should be what commissioners make,” Goodson said. “There will be a motion to do it.”

District 6 Commissioner Karen Berry said her major concern also in is funding road projects and hopes to find other ways to generate revenue to the department.

“I’m going to look at it carefully and then at the next budget hearing be prepared to ask questions and voice concerns,” Berry said.

The Pike County Commission will hold its next budget hearing at 3 p.m. July 27 in the Pike County Health Department.