The McDuffie County Board of Commissioners formally approved the 2004 county budget last week. The balanced budget stands at approximately $14.6 million, and county officials were pleased that several big-ticket items were included in the final version, including around $175,000 for seven new jailors at the sheriff's department and $60,000 for a new roof at the Senior Citizens' Center.
County Manager Don Norton said that he was encouraged by how smoothly the budget process went.
"I really am pleased," he said. "I think it turned out better than I thought it would. ... And I was actually somewhat surprised that we got in as much as we did."
County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton agreed with Mr. Norton, saying that the budget process this year was much different than last year's, when former County Manager Lamar Hamill was at the helm.
"I think the process (this year) was much improved, and the biggest improvement was that Don got the department heads much more involved than Lamar did. I think Lamar, of course, took their input and so did we, but it was at a much deeper level this year," said Mr. Newton.
More input from department heads meant that Mr. Norton and the board of commissioners were able to make informed decisions about what projects they want to undertake in 2004 and those they don't.
"Everyone caught on more quickly than I thought they would and bought into the process," said Mr. Norton. "I think it will even be easier and better in the upcoming years just because there's a learning curve involved in it."
Added this year was a budget contingency fund of around $230,000. The money will be used by commissioners towards any unexpected expenses in 2004 instead of having to dip into their general fund. Officials like the idea because it will be an easier way of keeping track how much money the county spends.
Also making an appearance in the budget is approximately $125,000 in salary contingency, which will in part allow for a one percent cost of living increase for all full-time and regular part-time employees, save all elected officials. The rest of the money will be used to make sure all employees are on the appropriate salary level.
Mr. Newton said he was pleased that there was enough money to give an across-the-board raise, and he said he hopes it can be more in the future.
"We'd like to go up and give some longevity increases and things like that to reward people who stay with us and continue to do a good job, and while we haven't been able to do those things in recent years, but hopefully we'll able to do that," he said.