$341,854 is squeezed from county offices -- Department budget cuts put finances in black -- for now
Meeting Friday morning, both as finance committee and as quorum court, Carroll County's justices of the peace crunched out $341,854.07 in potential budget cuts in its general fund, leaving county operations in the black until the end of the year, but in a tenuous position for the start of 2004 when revenues are traditionally slow.
With JPs meeting in committee, County Judge Ed Robertson presented cuts totaling $273,935.07 which were submitted by departments. Prosecutor Tony Rogers soon volunteered a cut of $29,199 in salaries in his office, which will be absorbed by the prosecutor's hot check fund income.
Robertson and County Treasurer Cindy Collins anticipate between $800,000 and $900,000 in collections, plus $100,000 a month, coming in from the state for the balance of the year.
Projected expenses from the county's general fund for January through April 2004 are between $74,000 and $80,000. per month. Anticipated revenue for 2004 currently stands at $3,197,417, according to Collins.
The figures do not reflect road department, 911 operations and jail construction, which are financed by designated taxes which by law can not be applied to the general fund.
JPs appeared to generally agree to forego payment for their services to the county for the balance of the year, a move which could save another $6,000. As elected officials the quorum court members cannot override the state's mandated pay, but several JPs said they would turn back their checks to the county, and none were heard to say they would not.
Additionally, the budget committee approved cutting $1,800 for District Court East (formerly Berryville Municipal Court) and District Court West (formerly Eureka Springs Municipal Court). Those two departments submitted no voluntary budget cuts in time for Friday's meeting.
Assessor Zelah McCollough, Circuit Clerk Ramona Wilson and Treasurer Collins offered $10,000 each in cuts.
Other cuts agreed to prior to Friday's meetings included $4,384 from airport, $10,241.52 from the assessor, $30,000 in capital expenses, $16,945.44 in Western District operations of the county and circuit clerks, $2,561.57 from the circuit clerk, $22,000 from the circuit judge, $14,832.19 from the collector, $602.50 from Cooperative Extension Services, $10,000 from the county building budget; $69,000 from the county jail fund, $23,000 from the county judge, $20,000 from the election commission, $3,687 from grants and aids, $8,880.85 from the public defender, $38,700 from the sheriff, $4,100 from the treasurer, and $5,000 from Western District Courthouse maintenance.
After approving the cuts, with a general hiring freeze in place, some JPs appeared reluctant to approve hiring a replacement for Robertson's administrative assistant, Lisa Taylor, who is going to be moving to Camden where her husband is employed.
Robertson said he would abide by whatever the JPs decided, but for them to not expect the phone to be answered every time they called if the position was left vacant.
However, Sheriff Chuck Medford, did get approval from the court for $5,000 for his department's drug fund, which had been completely depleted.
JP Ken Drezinski, said that, as a parent of a child lost to the drug culture, he had no hesitance in approving the expenditure, saying the quorum court has a duty to county residents, even to try to "protect them from theirselves."
The $5,000 brings the year's total funding for the county drug fund to $10,000.
Some philosophical discussion ensued regarding justification for drug money while not having an assistant for the county's top administrator. Discussion regarding staffing of Robertson's office was deferred for a later meeting.
Planning for the 2004 budget is expected to start in September with a joint meeting between quorum court members and department heads.
Sales tax election
A resolution was read by Glenda Satterfield of the Carroll County Democratic Women, supporting the proposed 1 percent increase in sales tax which the quorum court is considering to address the serious county budget shortfall.
The resolution reads, "Whereas the problems related with the manufacturing, distribution and use of the illegal drug methamphetamine adversely affect the lives, health and overall welfare of our community, and whereas the children of Carroll County should be protected by their communities, be it resolved that the Carroll County Democratic Women do hereby support the proposed one percent sales tax, which will be used in part for the enhanced defense of our children and families in Carroll County."
An ordinance setting an election for a 1 percent sales tax, introduced and approved on its first reading in July, did not make its second reading Friday, as a revised draft did not include a $25 cap on what sales tax could be collected on, as recommended by JP Larry Swofford.
There were two versions of the ordinance before the quorum court, each containing a five-year sunset clause, allowing for voters to consider continuation of the tax at that time.
Robertson stated that legal research shows that due to the structure of the county's half-cent sales tax for a new jail, which does not produce funds shared with municipalities, all other sales taxes initiated by the county must be shared with municipalities.
Consideration had been given to a one-half percent sales tax with no funds for municipalities. Merchants, particularly in Eureka Springs where sales tax runs 7.85 percent in general, with an additional 2 percent each for City Advertising and Promotion Commission and state lodging taxes, have expressed reluctance about an additional 1 percent sales tax.
But, Robertson indicated, with about half of a new county-wide one-cent sales tax going to municipalities, the remaining half cent is projected to barely be enough to "keep our heads above water." Robertson said, "It will leave no room for expansion."
The tax issue, regardless of which ordinance is approved, would benefit the county's general fund, making the "selling" of the issue to the voters difficult, with no single project, such as methamphetamine combat, to focus on.
"It is up to the quorum court to be responsible to tell the public how dire it is," said JP Yvonne Herron.
The ordinance for an election in November must be in place at least 30 days prior to the election. The JPs will consider the ordinance, currently awaiting its second reading, at its September meeting.
In other financial business, Robertson announced that the county has a loan commitment for $3 million from First National Bank of Berryville, First National Bank of Green Forest, Arvest Bank, Bank of Eureka Springs, First Federal Bank and Community First Bank.
The loan, for jail construction, carries a five-year amortization, and a 4.25 interest rate. The county currently has $2.4 million on hand in the jail fund to construct the new facility.
In other business, the justices of the peace:
Authorized the county judge to submit an application of formal request to the Arkansas Rural Development Commission to secure $18,389.66 in state grant funds to assist the Carroll County Fair in establishing a horse barn.
Eventually, the EAST lab will have a link from its Web site to the county's 911 Web site.