The Sharp County Quorum Court continued to battle its way to balancing next year's budget last week.
The budget was the main topic of discussion at the regularly scheduled quorum court meeting Dec. 10 and again at a special budget committee meeting Dec. 13. Though no final decision has been made, it appears the court will not ask residents for either a millage rate or a sales tax increase.
Justices of the Peace Bartus Allen and Buell Wilkes, who have wavered back and forth in their approval of suggestions made by the committee, said Dec. 10 they will no longer support a millage increase. This is the second time the two JPs have changed their minds during the budget negotiations.
JP Wayne Long said Dec. 10 he thought the budget could be balanced without any employees losing their jobs; this followed meetings in prior weeks when he appeared to support job decreases in the sheriff's and tax collector's offices. Long has maintained his position that he will not support a millage increase.
Resident J.R. Murphy spoke to the court Dec. 10 and presented a spreadsheet for the JPs' review. Murphy suggested the JPs agree to give up part of their salaries to help the county's financial situation. JP Buell Wilkes had made the same suggestion in a prior meeting and supported Murphy's recommendation. JP Marvin Cossey did not support the recommendation, saying, "Maybe the rest of the county employees would donate their salaries."
Evins presented two options to the committee for their review at a special budget meeting Dec. 13. Both options would not require a millage increase. Evins first proposed the court adjust the current sales tax distribution. Currently the general fund receives 60 percent of the taxes and the road department receives 40 percent. Evins suggested it be changed to a 70/30 split. He said the road department's budget was in good shape and he felt this was a viable solution for balancing next year's budget. This option also included the already suggested employee cuts in the sheriff's and collector's offices as well as a cut in personnel in the clerk's office.
Long said he would not support taking money away from the road department, nor did he approve the personnel cuts.Allen also disapproved the employee cuts. "I hate for the quorum court to cut personnel. Cut a set amount of money from the offices and leave it to the discretion of the department heads where it should be cut," he said. Evins responded he did not see how that much money could be cut out of each office without deleting personnel. "I'd hate to think you guys let that much fluff get by you last year. If they (officials) can cut that much without cutting personnel I'd have to raise an eyebrow," he said. Evins is serving his first term as a JP and was not on the quorum court when this year's budget was approved.
After a lengthy debate about the first option, JP Gary Johnson asked Evins about the second option. Though Evins did not go into detail, he said the second suggestion included many of the same cuts as the first, with the exception of the change in the sales tax split. Evins said he had made numerous other smaller cuts in line items, but would still be approximately $15,000 short. He then said the second option included the JPs decreasing their salaries by half to make up the shortfall.
JPs Evins, Greg Prenger, Marc Goings, Johnson, Wilkes and Ray Martin said they would support that suggestion. However, Long said the law would not allow the court to decrease the JPs salaries until their current term was finished. Goings then suggested the JPs donate half of their salary back each month if that were the case. Long did not support the suggestion. Cossey was not present at the meeting.
Though it is still unclear exactly how the JPs will balance next year's budget, they are expected to approve a budget Dec. 18 at a special quorum court meeting.