County Commission continues budget hearings

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Pike County Commission continued its budget hearing for the upcoming fiscal year, but made little headway as several departmental heads were not present for the hearing.

Danta Fraizer, director of the Pike Area Transit System, spoke to commissioners prior to their 6:30 p.m. budget hearing and presented a budget to the commissioners, which requested $20,000 more for this upcoming fiscal year.

“We’ve proposed to hire another fill-time person and also two more part-time people for our program,” Fraizer said. “It’s because we’re growing. This thing started out real small, but it’s been a total blessing with how it’s grown.”

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Commissioners presented Fraizer with several points of information that would need to be presented to them to justify a $20,000 increase including the number of patrons of the service. Commissioner Joey Jackson also reminded Fraizer that many county entities were doing with less in order to do more and to continue to keep the General Fund in good standing.

“There is not one county office, not one county entity right now that is getting more,” Jackson said. “We are all having to do more with less. Just remember I said that.”

Commissioners also discussed an increase in the cost of living for county employees to 6 percent as well as 3 percent. In order to do so, Commission Administrator Harry Sanders said that Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas had opted to submit a level-funded budget equal to the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget submitted to the commission if a 6-percent increase in the cost of living was approved.

“We spoke to the sheriff and he expressed his willingness to work with the County Commission to develop a budget that was workable for the commission and for the county,” Sanders said. “The direction we have for the commission is for a budget that has a three-percent cost of living increase, but if you look at the document you’ll see that you have three columns. The Very first column is this year’s budget, the second column is the three-percent increase and the next column is a six-percent increase. In the discussion with the sheriff, his comment was that he would remove several items in his budget if it would allow county employees to have an additional increase to their cost of living.”

Sanders said the 6-percent increase to the cost of living would help offset the increase in health insurance premiums. Thomas was not present at the meeting nor did he have a representative to allow for further questioning on the matter.

“The expenses that are going up with insurance includes co-pays and prescriptions,” Sanders said. “It’ll go from $35 to $40 and the cost for generic drugs will go from $5 to $10.”

Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen also answered questions about his office’s budget, highlighting that he had provided a budget with a $300 decrease from last fiscal year for his travel and training portion of his budget. While he had managed to decrease the amount of funding for this portion of his budget, Allen explained why it was still an important line item for his office.

“For the travel and training portion of the budget, we cut $1,000 this budget year to $700,” Allen said. “As probate judges, we are required to have 12 hours of continuing education every year. We normally have three or four schools every year either in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham or Montgomery. We had an extra one this year at the end of July.”

Pike County Engineer Russell Oliver also came back before the commission with an amended budget from the previous hearings, but was again told to go back to the drawing board. Oliver’s proposed budget has a $78,000 shortfall, and commissioners requested that for the time being Oliver take out the 3-percent cost of living increase he included in his budget as well as several items of equipment he had proposed for purchase.

Commissioner Robin Sullivan met Oliver’s requests with compromise, and instead of suggesting Oliver outright remove proposed of items of equipment just lessen the $100,000 down payment he had proposed for a new motor grader.

“If you just put half down, you’ll have $50,000 more you can use.”

Commissioners also dismissed Sanders’ proposal for a part-time administrative assistant for the Pike County Commission Office.

Budget hearings will continue following the regularly scheduled commission meeting Monday, Sept. 14, and Sanders said he would bring forward amended budgets.

“I’m going to bring you guys a budget back with the sheriff, back to where he was last year,” Sanders said. “It’s going to be a three-percent increase where he was last year, a six percent that reduces his budget, and I’ll let him know that the commission intends to cut his budget. He’s already said he does not intend to change his budget unless there is a raise given to county employees.”