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Lawrence County Commission adopts 2013 budget

Monday, January 28, 2013

For the second year, the Lawrence County Commission has adopted a deficit budget. The $4.3 million plan included no raises and few capital improvements.

Clerk Gary Emerson said during the budget hearing in Mt. Vernon on Jan. 16 that the commissioners amended the budget three times in 2012. Due to spending restraint by the office holders, the projected $203,056.87 deficit ended up as a $72,524.56 gain.

For 2013, the commissioners adopted a budget anticipating $4,067,561 in revenues. Spending totaled $4,334,617.12, including the seldom used $122,027 reserve fund, which would create a deficit for the year of $267,056.12.

Emerson said commissioners planned a conservative budget, expecting revenues could fall $129,647 less than in 2012. State law only allows the county to revise the budget if revenues surpass expectations. In 2012, the budget over-estimated revenues by $24,111.

The only capital improvements cited during the hearing included two vehicles for the sheriff's department. Car purchases were moved from the sheriff's budget to the commission's line item.

The county spent $126,000 on its buildings in 2012, mostly on the historic courthouse roof. Presiding Commissioner Sam Goodman said grant money for repairing sidewalks around the courthouse had not come through for 2013.

Goodman planned to reapply, hoping the city's grant money would still be available when the county was able to make its match. He hoped to make repair of the courthouse clock a priority for the future.

Several costs increased over which the county had no control. The prosecutor, whose salary is tied by state law to the pay received by circuit court judges, received a $4,000 raise. Retirement and health insurance benefits increased. The Juvenile Office was budgeted to receive $4,968 more due to a pending mandate from the state to have an attorney present at all court hearings.

Commissioners budgeted a $50,000 transfer from general funds to cover expenses for 911 again in 2013. The jail will receive $8,000 more for operations

Sheriff Brad DeLay requested a budget of $1.2 million and received $754,016, or $9,722 more than in 2012, after the commissioners moved car purchases to their budget.

DeLay had requested salaries to hire three more jailers to take over the duties of dispatchers, should the 911 service move out of the jail and into the Justice Center. He also requested six new vehicles.

The impact of not having more staff "remains to be seen," DeLay said. Officers in the middle of assignments complete duties such as arrests and then receive comp time in return. If an officer leaves before getting the time off, the county has to pay for the hours accumulated.

Reserve officers help relieve some of the backlog, DeLay said. Often the reserves take jobs elsewhere before positions develop.

The cost of running older vehicles continues to grow, surpassing $30,000 in 2012, DeLay said. The newest cars have up to 90,000 miles on them. Older cars first go to the detectives and then to the reserves. If a car breaks down while in use transporting a prisoner to a court hearing, the county faces addition expenses in having to deal with housing a prisoner out of the area.

"The car situation is still manageable," DeLay said. "A couple of vehicles have been donated and that helps a lot."

DeLay was pleased to report the county jail since its emergency remodeling has operated without a problem. He said the facility remains undersized and understaffed, plus the foundations requires work due to the building's age.

The health department's budget fluctuates yearly, depending on the availability of grants. Director Alethea Goodman said the 2013 outlook remains unclear. She anticipates an 8 percent reduction in state funding for core public health programs. Plans have begun to stabilize funding better than in the past. In 2012, the department received $45,092 more than the amount spent.

Budgets for most other offices remained close to 2012 spending totals.

The county has one Bridge Replacement Off-System (BRO) project planned in 2013. A bridge over the Sac River, in the northeast corner of the county, was closed after divers found structural weaknesses.

A bridge north of Aurora over Spring River has been finished and is awaiting final inspection before funds are released. Goodman said without any critical bridge replacement projects, commissioners could begin looking at traffic counts as a future indicator.

Goodman commended the office holders for using their own funds to pay expenses. Circuit Court Clerk Steve Kahre was able to get the state to pick up the bill for 22 and a half hours of pay for staff that the county had previously paid.

Western Commissioner David Botts, who participated in his first budget process, said he felt privileged to come into office when office holders work so well with the commission. He agreed with the necessity for a conservative approach, adding he would like to prioritize and help develop long range plans to improve the future

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