County begins '08 budget deliberations

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

BERRYVILLE -- Work on the 2008 county budget got under way Friday morning as the quorum court's budget committee met to address budgets for the county judge, circuit judge and road department.

The three-member committee was short one, as Justice of the Peace Harley Barnum had to be out of town. However, JP?Albena Link sat in on the session.

The meeting started with County Treasurer Cindy Collins stating that revenues are anticipated to increase five percent over 2007, to the tune of about $108,000. With that, she said, four percent raises could be given and the county would still have around $8,000 to $9,000 to work with, provided the quorum court "holds the line elsewhere."

County Judge Richard Williams, acting as chairman, explained his directive that the budget category of "other sundry" be eliminated and replaced by designations that reflect the money's actual use.

His budget calls for 25 percent of a salary for a position to be shared with the Road Department and Office of Emergency Management, with 25 percent, or $5,000, coming from his department, another $5,000 from the road department, and $10,000 from OEM.

That sparked a discussion, primarily by OEM Department Head Candy Bawcom, regarding the expense of grant writing and management.

As grant writer, Bawcom indicated that she has been overworked, and that the work requires long-term records.

Williams stated that he questioned if the grant writing is worth the effort, stating that an $11,000 grant for a program does not cover the time involved in obtaining and overseeing the money

Since 2005, county grant revenues have steadily decreased despite having someone assigned to grant-writing. In 2005, grant funds totaled about $160,000, falling to $60,000 in 2007, and between $52,000 and $54,000 projected in 2008.

Collins stated continuance of having a grant writer is a question for the quorum court, which is to meet on?Friday.

In the county judge's office budget there were few surprises, other than an increase in meals to $2,500, as Williams exceeded the amount budgeted for 2007. He also suggested elimination of $30,000 for special legal services, noting that the county has the services of an attorney through the prosecuting attorney's office, along with legal representation from the Arkansas Association of Counties and APERMA.

Aside from about 10 cases filed by "jail house lawyers," Williams said, there are no major suits currently pending against the county.

Circuit Judge Alan Epley's budget also showed few surprises, with much of his department's revenue being generated by court costs or coming from the state.

Epley called for an increase to $5,400 for juvenile court drug testing and additional funding to cover juvenile supervision.

"The biggest gorilla in the room," Epley said, was in the general fund, referring to his letter to justices of the peace calling for special consideration for wages and orders, with two clerks' positions being paid $26,500 each.

He also asked for more money to "load up on stamps," as a current 41-cent stamp regarding jury duty is being issued.

He also asked for an increase from?$30,000 to $35,000 for jurors and witnesses, noting that jury compensation has increased from?$15 to $18 per day.

He allowed that the amount could be excessive, but that he has to be prepared for jury trials, especially in violent cases.

JP?John Howerton said he would sponsor an ordinance setting the rate of reimbursement of jury costs, as required by state law.

Epley noted that his annual budgets usually have a carryover, but that he wants to keep the pressure on JPs regarding employee pay, saying that it is more efficient to keep an employee than to train a new one. He also cautioned that new programs can cut in to salaries.

The automation fund of the circuit judge is funded by 50 percent of a $5 processing fee which generates about $15,000 a year. Epley asked to budget $5,000 of that, so he could spend it as needed without coming back to the quorum court for an appropriation, though he does not anticipate spending it. He stated that the monies will likely be used as the state is "pressuring" for court records to be put on the internet.

In his drug court fund, Epley asked to spend the $223 which has built up to pay for two graduation ceremonies, noting that graduations had not been previously funded and had been paid for privately.

Epley also asked for consideration of other professional services for families in need of services and petitions, which primarily consist of actions regarding students who do not attend school, in which the state requires the students have attorneys before any action can take place.

Road Department Supervisor James Kelly proposed a budget, also with few surprises, but with increased transparency.

Roads funds do not come from county general revenues, but are funded by a designated road tax and other sources.

In discussion, Kelly stated that employee wages for his department have lagged behind that of other county departments.

State turnback at the end of February is estimated at $437,387.13.

The department currently has six unfilled positions, he said, and Williams noted that one employee left due to low wages, taking a job unrelated to road construction.

That situation prompted queries from Link regarding three employees, one in 911, one in the prosecutor's office and one in roads, who were hired with pay exceeding the maximum allowed by law by the quorum court.

"We got to find a way for equity," she said, allowing that the matter is a "touchy subject."

Collins reiterated Kelly, saying that wages in the road department have fallen behind that of others for several years.

Kelly eliminated the assistant road department foreman's position, saying that other employees are being trained to take his place as needed.

He also called for creation of a new line item for medications and drugs, essentially a first aide kit.

But, as expected, the increased cost of fuel and oil has impacted the department this year, with fuels, oils and lubricants going over budget in 2007 to $165,000. Kelly asked for $200,000 for 2008.

Similarly, $214,000 was spent for asphalt in 2007 while only $175,000 was budgeted. Kelly asked for $237,000 for 2008.

He also asked for increases for tires and tubes as a safety issue, with Justice of the Peace Morris Pate stating that he could stick his "hand in a crack on a tire," and Kelly noting that that tire was rebooted and put back on the road.

Williams stated that the money is there for the road department, and that the question is how the money is used.

In the sundry expenses of the road department was money for water, as the water from the tap at the department headquarters is black.

Williams noted that the county is working to utilize as much state aid money as it can, and that training efforts are resulting in a higher level of employee performance.

The Road Department could carry as much as $800,000 into 2008.

Other departmental budgets are expected to be addressed by the quorum court as a whole at its Friday meeting.

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