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County still fighting the budget battle

The McDuffie County Commission met on Monday in a continued effort to hammer out the 2005 budget which is scheduled for formal adoption on Aug. 17.

The work session was scheduled to be the last before the public hearings and meeting to adopt the new budget, but commissioners asked for another chance to speak with department heads who requested additional capital expenses during the coming year.

The proposed budget still has to be trimmed, according to commissioners. The current proposal includes a 1.9 percent increase over last year's budget. Also, the projected revenue is just over $10.9 million while projected appropriations are more than $11.1 million.

Factor in a $190,000 proposal for salary adjustments for county employees and the absence of a $300,000 contingency fund, and the budget shortfall grows to more than $710,000.

"We've got some tweaking to do, and I've got some questions to ask," said Commission Chairman Charlie Newton. "Right now we're... short of balancing the budget, and where you start chopping is that capital. ... The only other option is to raise the mil rate, and I am not an advocate of that, and I will not suggest it."

County Manager Don Norton offered to withdraw his salary adjustment proposal to help balance the budget even though county employees have not had a pay increase in several years. Many other possible cuts were discussed at the meeting as well.

"All I know is we don't have a whole lot of fat in that budget," Mr. Norton said. "If we can find the revenues to offset that 2 percent increase, I'd be mighty pleased with that. That's not to say that it can't be cut some more. It probably could be, but you're getting awfully close to the meat."

An adjustment to the budget of the public defender's office was discussed to help bring the budget back into parity. Also during the meeting, many of the new equipment requests made by department heads were proposed by commissioners to be taken out of the budget.

"Right now, really except for what it takes to operate county government, nothing can be considered to be included (in the budget)," Mr. Newton said. "Some of those capital requests that we said are in the budget right now, they're in the numbers we're looking at. So I guess you could say they're in the budget, but right now nothing's safe."

Aside from trimming the budget, there were two sources of revenue discussed at the meeting.

One possible revenue source is raising the 911 landline fees from $1.50 to $2 per line. The other possibility is a business license program that would cost $40,000 up front and bring in $60,000 in its first year, but Mr. Newton is not convinced.

"There's an upside of a little additional revenue, and having a little better control over what businesses are operating in the county. There's a downside that it's just another hoop for our local folks to jump though," Mr. Newton said. "I've got mixed emotions about that."

Also resurfacing at the meeting was discussion about Fire Chief Bruce Tanner's request to man station one 24 hours a day at a cost of $137,000. He contends the extra personnel would significantly cut response time to fires in a portion of the county that generates about 65 percent of the total call volume.

Mr. Newton said that, while the increase in coverage would be advantageous, the fire department's budget has doubled during his administration, and he would not be willing to raise taxes to increase it again during a tight budget year.

The first of two public hearings for viewing of the 2005 budget will be held on Aug. 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the courthouse.

The second hearing is scheduled for Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m.



Web posted on Thursday, August 5, 2004


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