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Pike Co. Commission holds initial budget hearing

The Pike County Commission held its initial budget hearing Monday, at which time it heard from various department heads on their requests for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

One of the possible changes from this fiscal year to the upcoming one is the possibility of dropping county employees’ three-percent annual pay raise.

A decision on the pay raise was not made Monday, but the commission will receive updated departmental budgets without the pay raise included at the next commission budget hearing September 23.

“Now, the commissioners will just take some time, and we will assist them in answering any questions they might have and make any adjustments they feel they need to make,” said county administrator Harry Sanders. “If they do choose not to increase salaries, we’ll make the adjustments to the budget that would need to be made.”

The budget must be approved by a majority of four commission members by October 1, or else the commission will be in violation of Alabama state law.

But, before a budget can be approved, the commission must first evaluate the request presented to it by the various department heads Monday.

The Pike County Road Department appears to be the department with the most need for increased funding, as it has seen staff cuts in recent years, as well as aging equipment still in service.

“I have to remind you of the fact that we have fewer employees, and when you drop from 36 to 27 employees, someone is doing some hard work,” said county engineer Russell Oliver. “And, when you have fewer employees, it is more important to have equipment that is good, reliable and versatile. If we don’t pay attention to our equipment needs, it will come back to bite us.”

The Road Department also needs funds in order to receive federal grants. The commission has applied for several federal grants totaling roughly $5 million, but would need a total of roughly $1.3 million in matching funds if all the grants applied for were awarded.

Unfortunately, Pike County does not see as much gas tax revenue as some states, since gas tax revenue is not determined by gas bought in a particular county, but rather the county’s population.

Currently, the road department has budgeted $60,000 for matching funds, but needs a minimum of $133,000 in order to access funds from the state of Alabama for planned road improvements in the next fiscal year.

The commission also received an update from Sanders on the feasibility of the previously proposed courtroom addition at the Pike County courthouse.

The project would convert the current law library to an additional courtroom, and Sanders said there would be enough funding to help finance the project in the capital improvements fund, which is designated solely for capital improvements.

However, any potential construction could have an adverse affect on the probation and parole offices, which are currently located at the courthouse.

“We are not required by law to provide them with that space for the probation and parole office, but we’ve never broached this topic with anyone in that office,” Sanders said.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas did not request increased funding, but took the opportunity to praise the employees in his department.

“It’s the same as it’s been for the last few years, as I’m requesting level funding,” Thomas said.

Thomas pointed out the costs saved by the Sheriff’s Department on drug investigation and inmate healthcare at the county jail.

“There is not one dollar budgeted for drug investigation, and that’s a testament to the people who work for this county. We are able to handle it all,” Thomas said. “Another thing I want to touch on is inmate healthcare. Dale County and some of the other counties around here spend $200,000 or more on inmate healthcare. We have done it for between $25,000 and $35,000 consistently, and that’s a good deal anywhere in America. That’s just good government.”

Thomas also said his department frequently has made sacrifices to save money for the county.

“We do a lot of things to help you and the taxpayers that no one ever hears about,” Thomas said. “We run the jail with nine people. That’s a jail that has 75-80 people per day coming through, and upwards of 900 inmates per year. We do all of this is in the fourth oldest jail in the state of Alabama, so you need to thank these employees and the jail administrator for all they do for the taxpayers.”

The commission also approved a budget for Pike County coroner Jerry Williams for the first time in many years.

“This is the first real budget we’ve had in 25 years, and that is all thanks to the local legislation passed,” Williams said.

Williams presented a budget that called for a salary of $14,000, in addition to $8,000 for expenses, this after years of actually losing money to be coroner.

“We just want to thank Mr. Williams for his years of service at expense to himself,” said commissioner Robin Sullivan.