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County board OKs balanced budget

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But some factors could change the county's financial picture

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

The Fayette County Board passed on Tuesday what it hopes will be a balanced budget.
Several factors, however, could dash their hopes.
The budget approved by the board estimates general fund revenues in the coming fiscal year, which begins on Dec. 1, to total $4,323,214, and expenditures at $4,374,956.
But that deficit turns into a surplus of about $255,000 with carryover revenue that exceeded the projected revenue amount for this fiscal year, according to board Chairman Steve Knebel.
The budget was prepared with the assumption “that the state makes it payments.”
In the past two years, the county board has OK’d several transfers from its capital improvement fund to meet payroll as it waited for the state to pass along tax and reimbursement monies to the county.
“It’s not great,” Knebel said about the budget. “Overall, if things work out (as planned), we’ll be OK.
“We made some big cuts,” he said. “We’ve got to make those decisions, whether we like it or not.
“We’ve got to be responsible with the taxpayers’ money,” Knebel said.
The biggest cuts, he said, were made in the sheriff’s and circuit clerk’s offices.
The cuts to the sheriff’s office include trimming overtime, and last month, they also included the elimination of the chief deputy position.
But Sheriff Aaron Lay went to the board’s finance committee with a proposal that would allow him to keep that second-in-command position, and its $50,000 salary.
The finance committee accepted his proposal, which includes not replacing a retiring cook, netting a savings of about $38,000.
It also accepted Lay’s proposal to begin serving food to jail inmates using a catering service. The daily cost for that service is $8.25 per inmate.
In the circuit clerk’s office, the finance committee was ready to recommend the elimination of two positions. But Circuit Clerk Mary Sue Ruot gained the approval from Judge Gene Schwarm, the resident county judge and chief of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, to fund the salaries of the two employees with court-generated fees.
Knebel told board members that the county will be using some of its capital improvement funds, which were generated through the sale of the county’s coal rights, to make needed facility improvements.
“We will be making repairs to the courthouse and the jail,” Knebel said, explaining that work is needed on the roof of each building.
“It’s got to be done,” he said, referring to the improvements.
Knebel said factors that could affect the new budget include upcoming negotiations with the unions that represent the majority of county employees, as well as the settlement of the Fraternal Order of Police contract from last year.
The county, he said, will be going to arbitration on that contract issue.
Another likely factor is the salary for the assistant state’s attorney.
Joshua Morrison, the Republican who last week was elected state’s attorney, learned at Tuesday’s meeting that the county was budgeting considerably less than what the current assistant state’s attorney is making, and said that that would affect his ability to hire someone with considerable experience.
The current salary, according to Knebel, is about $97,000. The salary in the new budget is $60,000.
Morrison asked, “So, why is the person I’m hiring worth less than what he (the current assistant) is making?”
Knebel said that Chancey’s current salary level is based partially on his longevity with the county, 5½ years.
Morrison said that being limited to a $60,000 salary “is going to hand-tie me significantly” in filling the assistant’s position.
Knebel recommended that Morrison meet with the finance committee – Knebel, John Daniels Jr. and Darrell Schaal – to push for increasing the salary.
The board chairman also warned board members that the county’s auditing costs could possible “triple or quadruple” in the coming year.
He said the possibility of such a large increase is looming due to the system that may be needed to perform the audit. The county is currently paying $30,000 for its audit.
Also at the meeting:
• EMA Coordinator Kendra Sanders reported that she, Lay and Jail Administrator J.D. Vieregge are in the process of cleaning out the basement, “making it to where it is a working emergency center.”
• The board approved the appropriation of $579,755 in Motor Fuel Tax funds for road maintenance in 2013.