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Conservative LawCo budget may squeeze services

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lawrence County Presiding Commissioner Sam Goodman, at center, discusses a fine point about the county's 2012 budget with Sheriff Brad DeLay prior to the public hearing held the budget on Wednesday in Mt. Vernon. Detective Mike Madewell, at left, studies details of the spending plan. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
The Lawrence County Commission adopted a $4.3 million spending plan for its 2012 budget following the public hearing on Wednesday. Clerk Gary Emerson described the plan as continuing the conservative strategy that enabled the county to finish 2011 in the black despite projections of a deficit.

Emerson said total spending in 2011 fell below income by $136,092, in part because revenues exceeded expectations by $38,737.

Spending topped projections in several areas:

The final 2012 budget figures are at right.
* Workers compensation and other insurance shifted from a calendar year cycle to a July to June period, forcing the county to pay for an extra six months of coverage in 2011.

* The sheriff's department ran $75,765 over budget, largely because of additional fuel costs and one car that needed a new motor and transmission for $8,000.

* Building and grounds costs topped its budget by $5,186 due to repairs and renovation on the historic courthouse.

* Commissioners continued their annual practice of transferring $50,000 from the incidental fund to cover 911 expenses.

The final approved budget included several changes in the past week.

The sheriff's budget was set at $794,294, up $72,000. Commissioners boosted Sheriff Brad DeLay's allocation for salaries by $9,000, topping last year's pay total by over $13,000.

The allocation for fuel and maintenance increased by $25,000, coming within $2,000 of what was spent in 2011. Utilities went up $12,000 to meet the 2011 total. Another $50,000 was added to purchase new cars.

DeLay asked for almost 29 percent more in money for salaries than he received. None of the request, he said, was for raises, which were covered by an increase in fees in the Sheriff's Salary Supplemental Fund. After the 2011 budget called for a 5 percent pay reduction for some officers, DeLay said 13 officers left in the past year to take jobs elsewhere.

With the extra money, DeLay had hoped to add up to two road officers. He wanted to save his drug investigator, whose job had been funded by the Missouri Sheriff Methamphetamine Relief Taskforce (MoSMART), which lost most of its funding. DeLay said he has divided the duties of the vacant jail administrator's job between two other officers to pay for the drug investigator, but filling the jail job will cancel the funds.

In addition, DeLay said he would like to separate the 911 service from the jail, placing dispatching in a separate building. Dispatchers presently do double duty as jailers, making it necessary to boost jail staff by two.

DeLay said his office received almost 9,000 calls in 2011 and he fully expected the volume to grow.

Presiding Commissioner Sam Goodman defended the commission's decision that did not provide for additional hiring.

"Essentially we tried to maintain services at the level they are," Goodman said. "Other offices are only getting slight employee raises. Every department is important to the county. We did as much as we thought we could. Brad has done a good job under the constraints he has. He's got a bottom line and has got to figure out how to work with it."

Goodman and Commissioners Joe Ruscha and Rodney Barnes said they did not have long-range plans to use future funds. However, they agreed separating 911 from the jail would be a top priority.

DeLay said his office still faces several major unaddressed funding demands. A grant used to fund the department's computers will run out in 2012. Commissioners turned down the additional $15,000 request for equipment.

The retirement of several officers has reduced those available to transport prisoners. DeLay said he may have to hire a private firm to move inmates. Also, a $40,000 bill had just arrived from Stone County for housing prisoners for the last two and a half years, enough to eat up the entire boarding budget for 2012.

Two other departments made significant budget requests turned down by the commissioners. Goodman said the surveyor requested an additional $13,000 to replace 20 section corners in danger of being lost. The work will proceed if grant funding comes through.

Also, emergency management had requested an additional $25,000 for vehicles and equipment. If the county could afford the purchase, half the amount would be reimbursable, Goodman said.

Road districts would receive more from the county from 2011 revenues, Barnes said. The county received $66,000 more than expected from County Aid Road Trust (CART) funds and $97,000 more from the capital improvement sales tax.

Years of work replacing the two bridges in Hoberg with one were completed in 2011. In 2012, Ruscha said federal Bridge Replacement Off-System (BRO) funds would be used to replace the bridge on Farm Road 1160 over Honey Creek in the Aurora Special Road District. Projected costs include $407,000 for construction and $15,000 for inspection, all of which will be covered by federal money.

"There are no bridges rated 'critical' left in the county," Goodman said. "Four is the lowest rating we have. The 'fours' can now turn to 'threes' and 'twos.' We'll look at traffic counts and flood problems for where to go next."

Emerson said the raises approved for employees represented approximately $500 per full-time worker and a 2.5 percent raise for part-time or seasonal help.

Commissioners chose to only budget an additional $30,000 from the general fund for 911 in 2011, though Emerson said the reduction may only be possible for one year. Dropping out of the lawsuit over Monett's tax increment financing (TIF) program should reduce county legal costs.

Commissioners projected total revenue in 2012 may drop by nearly $13,000 due to a reduction in grant money, especially for services through the health department. Emerson said the county could increase its budget after the money comes in but not reduce the budget, according to a 2010 court ruling, making the budget very conservative.

Goodman said the commission could spend as much as $225,000 on capital improvements in 2012. The historic courthouse needs a new roof and the finials on the corners, which are leaking, need to be replaced with fiberglass versions.

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I'm confused,Monetts' runing n the red yet has millions for the "Dream" project?

-- Posted by Soujerner on Wed, Jan 25, 2012, at 8:29 AM

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