On Thursday, June 29, Lawrence County Commissioners approved a budget for the coming fiscal year and met the state’s deadline of June 30 for the second year in a row. 2016 was the first time that had happened since 1996.
During those 20 years and more often than not before 1996, it was usually September or October before a new budget was approved. Last year I wrote about why that’s not a good thing; bear with me as I repeat myself:
*Until the tax rate is set, tax bills cannot be sent out and revenues don’t come in. You may have heard the term “tax anticipation notes” in the past, which means we borrow money from other funds within the county to cover general operating expenses.
*Without a new budget on July 1, the county operates on a “continuing budget,” the spending plan established for the previous year. Continuing budgets only cover basic operating expenses. Other purchases have to be put off, even if the Highway Department needs a new piece of equipment, or an office copier breaks down. This year, necessary purchases can be made in a timely manner, which means the county operates more smoothly and effectively for you.
*State statute requires that we pass our budget by June 30. I believe it’s a good idea to show state officials we’re willing to do the work to get things done right.
The 2017-18 budget totals $80,138,325 and is 76 pages long, so I won‘t go into much detail about it. I am proud that it includes no tax increase, no cuts in services, is steadily reducing our debt, and will leave us in a stronger financial condition at the end of the year. In short, we’re making responsible decisions with taxpayer money.
I will tell you that it includes funds for two new ambulances that are very badly needed; money to create a new parking lot and landscaping in front of the Courthouse; and funding for an E-dispatch system that sends calls to volunteer firefighters’ cell phones rather than radios that didn‘t operate in remote areas of the county.
The budget process involves many people and takes a lot of time. First, county department heads and others that get county funding like the school system prepare budget proposals for the coming year. After an initial review by Budget Director Teresa Purcell and in some cases, other committees (the Highway Committee approves the Highway Department budget, for instance), everything comes to the Budget Committee.
I am chair of the Budget Committee; other members are Russ Brewer, Brandon Brown, Scott Franks, and Wayne Yocom. We review budget requests with the help of our Budget Director (who spends lots of late nights and weekends in her office), and department heads who come to discuss their proposals. This takes many hours, and Commissioners spend time away from their jobs to get everything done. I want to thank them for that commitment, especially because every Commissioner earns the same pay – $200 a month – no matter how many hours they spend on county work. .
After the entire budget is approved by the Committee, copies are given to every Commissioner. They all have time and opportunity to discuss it and ask questions; in fact, we held a “Committee as a Whole” meeting for that purpose a week before Thursday’s full Commission meeting. All committee meetings, of course, are open to all Commissioners and the public.
The county budget is always a work in progress because things change during the year. Some costs come in higher than expected – inmates’ medical bills are expensive and unpredictable. We also work hard to save money – last year we were able to refinance debt and will get savings almost $1.5 million over the life of those bonds.
Finally, I want to thank all county employees and Commissioners who did their part to help Lawrence County have a budget in place by the state deadline. Along with the other benefits I‘ve mentioned, we also don’t have to worry about it all summer. We can go on to other county business, and there’s always work to be done.