Commission begins budget hearings

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pike County Commissioners began the process of discussing a new budget Monday for the upcoming year and how to stretch a limited amount of revenue.

While most of the departments that came before the commission Monday presented requests for level funding, or even a slightly lower budget, the commission will have to make some decisions to make the money balance out.

The EMA requested an additional $70,000 from the county, although $30,000 of that request would ultimately be covered by a grant.

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The request is still tentative, however, as interim EMA Director Herbert Reeves and Pike County 911 Director Chris Dozier work on a plan to merge the two entities.

Commissioner Chad Copeland, District 4, said he understands if the merger doesn’t necessarily lead to a cost savings to the county, but said he is concerned about where the additional requested funds could be found.

“We’re not necessarily looking for a cost savings, but we know that we can’t cover much difference,” Copeland said. “We have to look at, here’s what we’ve got to spend and how can we meet our limit? That’s why we wanted to get some other people involved; we were about at our max last year.”

Dozier said the budget is still not finalized as he and Reeves are still speaking with stakeholders about how to make the transition to share costs among the 911 board and EMA.

Another budget that looks very different this year is the road department budget.

“The payroll is usually the gorilla, the lion’s share of our budget; not this year,” said Russell Oliver, county engineer. “We have whittled down our payroll budget. It’s lower than it’s been since I started with the county even 18 years ago. We have gotten down to the numbers (of personnel) as promised after starting the spray program.”
Oliver said another part of the plan the commission made to reduce the tractor fleet from seven to four should be completed this year.

“We dropped down to five but we needed to keep one of the old ones to get through the transition,” Oliver said. “What we plan on doing is selling that other tractor.”

Oliver said there will be more opportunity for the commission to continue to save through contracting out with a spraying company.

One of the department’s bigger equipment needs is a wheeled excavator to do side trimming and side-cutting on roads. But Oliver said there is another spray program that could be used instead.

“I’ve been talking to our consultant about what they call chemical trimming,” Oliver said. “It’s much more economical and efficient to spray that stuff. If you cut it you get a pruning effect; cut off one limb and two grow back in its place … Our consultant told us they could do about a third of the county a year and guarantee results in three years. If we do something like this, we wouldn’t need this wheeled excavator.”

Oliver added that Bullock County has already done this and was even successful in getting a grant to fund it.

“We applied for a TAP (Transportation Alternatives Program) grant to fund chemical trimming and were turned down, but we were automatically entered into the pool of applicants for next year,” Oliver said. “Bullock County was successful getting it. If you drive on U.S. Highway 29 to Bullock County, pay attention to the roadsides … their lines of sight are completely open and this is the kind of thing they do there.”

The budget also includes $1.735 million in contractual road maintenance, including $1.2 million that has been allocated for the resurfacing of local roads through the county’s 24-month plan to free up funding for paving projects.

Oliver said that doesn’t even include other grant-funded projects, which would come in at another $4 million.

“We’re somewhere around eight time our normal contract amount for a normal year,” Oliver said. “We’re generally at less than $1 million.”

The sheriff’s department is actually requesting $10,000 less from the county than last year, while the coroner’s, revenue commissioner’s and probate offices all submitted level-funded budget requests.

The commissioners have set a public hearing for their September 10 meeting to hear more information about the Pike Area Transit System (PATS) and hear any residents that want to voice support or opposition to the program.

The program, which is funded by Troy and Brundidge in addition to the county, was looked at last year by the commission as a possible line item that could be cut to reallocate revenue to other needs such as jail operation or road resurfacing projects.

The commission has asked Donta Frazier, PATS director, to bring them further information on the program to make a more informed decision about how to move forward.

The commission will meet again upstairs at the Pike County Health Department on Monday, August 27. The work session will being at 5:15 p.m., followed by the 6 p.m. business meeting. Budget hearings will resume following the business meeting.