County holds first proposed budget hearings

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, August 11, 2015

With the end of the fiscal year just over a month away, the Pike County Commission began its annual budget hearings.

With several bringing forth level-funded budgets, included the Pike County Revenue Department, the Board of Registrars and the License Inspector, the Commission heard several budgets. Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen was not present at the meeting; however, Commission Administrator Harry Sanders presented Allen’s budget for the Probate Office. Allen requested a $1,000 decrease to his travel budget.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas was also absent from the meeting having fallen ill. Sanders also presented his budget, but left questions on the table for the next hearing when Thomas should be available to be addressed.

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Pike County EMA Director Jeanna Barnes made several amendments to the EMA budget including removing the $4,000 line item of cleaning and janitorial in hopes to save money. Barnes, however, is requesting the addition of more than $5,000 for her part-time assistant and a $1,000 increase to the EMA training and travel line item.

“We’ve added to training and travel because of the education that we need that the state is requiring,” Barnes said. “I bumped up auto and maintenance and repair up a bit, not for any major, specific reasons other than the EMA truck is aging, and there are two vehicles we have to maintain. The biggest request is to bump up the operation support specialists and move her up to 24 hours a week. After Thursday night’s storm, I’ve used her up for the year and I still have a ways to go before I can use her again. It would be roughly a $5,762 increase.”

Barnes also requested several items of equipment including the addition of lights and sirens to one of the emergency management vehicles.

“In a situation like Thursday nights, it’s beneficial for us to have lights and sirens on our vehicles,” Barnes said.

Causing the most amount of discussion for the commission was the Pike County Road Department. County Engineer Russell Oliver presented several requests to the Commission, and commissioners ultimately turned several down.

The most controversial of all was Oliver’s request to use funds from the recent four percent increase in the county’s lodging tax. Commission Chairman outright denied Oliver’s request, saying he would not even consider supporting a request such as that.

“I’m not going to support that because we got his set up,” Wright said. “We had set up a deal for matching funds. We might help some, but not the whole deal because I didn’t bust my butt to get this done just to provide funds for one place … We don’t know how much we’re getting.”

Commissioner Charlie Harris went so far as to accuse Oliver of having his hand in the “cookie jar,” after Oliver presented his request for funds from the Lodging Tax and the purchase of several new pieces of equipment.

“We’ve got to go in phases in this,” said Commissioner Joey Jackson concerning the Oliver’s proposed budget. “There is no way we can give you everything that you need at this time.”

Currently, Oliver is requesting some $300,000 to purchase new equipment, with $72,000 on reserve from the sell of a motor grader during the 2015 fiscal year.

“I’m not trying to reach for the moon with this budget,” Oliver said. “The equipment we need here is what I’ve already deemed critical. We need to more tractors. When we’re out mowing right now, that’s all we can do because our machines are tied up.”

In his budget, Oliver shows a proposed down payment of $105,000 for a new excavator and the additional revenue of $100,000 from the selling of another motor grader.

However, commissioners sent Oliver away telling him to remove several items from his proposed budget including revenues from the Lodging Tax, an excavator and a road striper.

“There is just no way we can do that right now,” Jackson said.

But, commissioners told Oliver to leave a line item to purchase a used boom cutter, something Oliver said the Road Department had a need for.

The commission also had the first reading of the General Fund budget, and Sanders read off some of the requests the county had for this fiscal year including the addition of a part-time administrative assistant one.

“We are not asking for a total budget increase,” Sanders said. “If we have an admin assistant, we would cut our budget to make up for the difference. This would be a part-time position. It would be someone that could answer phones, run to the post office and allow everyone else to do the work they need to do.”

Several items of concern were brought up in this 2016 fiscal budget, including the allocation of $50,000 to the Rock Building. The commission made an allocation to the Rock Building in the 2015 fiscal year, but decided they would hold off on allocating an additional $50,000 to the restoration and preservation of the Pike County Activities Center until a formal appraisal had been done.

Sanders said with the appraisal, Howard Martin, of Montgomery, was also determining the cost of gutting the building completely.

Included in the county’s budget is a $16,000 line item for the Road Department, which is office improvements and not for the purchase of equipment. Sanders explained that each year a different department has received funds from the county for office improvements.

Proposed funding increases include a $20,000 increase in the Pike Area Transit System, $40,000 increase to switch over to Voice over IP, a $89,000 increase for the Pike County Jail and a $30,000 increase in software. However, several departments showed a decrease in funds, including a $30,000 decrease from gas and a $30,000 decrease in electricity.

There were personnel requests presented by the Road Department, EMA and the Sheriff Department. Sanders said should the commission approve a level-funded budget there would be $300,000 remaining in the General Fund budget; however, should the commission approve all of the agency increases, there would be $73,000 remaining in the General Fund budget.

Budget hearings are expected to continue Monday, Aug. 24 following the conclusion of the regularly scheduled work session and county commission meeting.