Last year, the Fulton County Quorum Court spent three frustrating months trying to come up with $100,000 in spending cuts, in order to pass an acceptable budget that would spend 90 percent or less of the $2 million dollars it expected to take in over the new year. October and November budget discussions touched off complaints, especially from senior citizens who learned funding for the county's three senior citizen centers would be cut by $15,000.
Budget Cuts Ordered
This year, County Judge Charles Willett, Clerk Vicki Bishop and Treasurer Donna Hall took a different approach after sitting down and looking at expected income and expenses for the 2013 fiscal year. According to two government agencies, Judge Willett let them know the county's financial picture wasn't good, and they needed to come up with some serious budget cuts.
When Quorum Court met on Monday, Nov. 16, it did not have to look for budget cuts. It was merely asked to approve the proposed budget the judge, clerk and treasurer had put together, which showed $161,821 in cuts from the County General Fund. Most of the cuts are achieved by county agencies paying the salaries of employees through the use of state funding they receive -- funds that are usually used for new equipment and other office upgrades.
"Basically, the only changes you are going to see (in the new budget) are increases in our (health) insurance and our retirement. Other than that, we've made cuts, trying to keep everything in line," Judge Willett said as he began going through the budgets for each county agency. Upon questioning, the judge explained that the county's health insurance rate will be increased by 8.6 percent in the new fiscal year, and pension funding will go up by about one-half percent.
Funding for the county judge's office, for example, went up by $2,472 to reflect higher health insurance and pension costs. The 2013 budget will take $50,805 from the general fund, the cost of funding the office for six months. The Road Fund will pay the remaining six months of the judge's office funding.
"You can see Vicki's (Clerk Vicki Bishop) lowered her office by $47,696. We're paying three people out of her Recording Fee now instead of county general," Willett said. Bishop added she has further cut general fund allocations by paying part of another salary out of her state fund in the coming year. "I was paying all of my help's salary (out of the state fund) but, next year, I'm also paying part of mine. If you go back and look at the Clerk's office, the salaries are less than this year by $8,000. I am taking out of this fund to try to help county general ," Bishop explained.
|"The Sheriff's office, if you will notice, Buck and I worked on this. We've cut about $49,000 out of the budget for the Sheriff's Department," Willett said. One way the Sheriff's office has cut funding is, it pays two full-time dispatcher salaries out of the county's 911 fund.|
"The Collectors' office. Machelle (Watkins) and Faye (Tomlinson) are running that office now. They are going to run it by theirself, which cuts about $30,000 out of that office also," Willett said. "If they have part-time help in their busy part of the season, they are going to pay it out of their (state) Automation Fund, the way I understand it."
The County Assessors Office cut $10,020 from the General Fund, by agreeing to pay for supplies and other needs out of its Automation Fund.
|The Treasurer's Office will pay one month of the Deputy Treasurer's salary out of its Automation Fund.||The Quorum Court budget was cut by $2,368.||The County Road Fund budget was cut by $121,856, by not filling three positions of highway workers who retired in the current fiscal year.|
Despite the cuts, the county ambulance service will still receive a $20,000 payment from the General Fund. The Health Department, which receives most of its funding from the state, will receive a $471 budget increase to help cover cleaning costs.
A big savings in next year's budget is the $25,000 the county has allocated in past years to senior centers. Earlier this year, the White River Area Agency on Aging took over operation of the county's three centers as it seeks a new organization to run the centers and provide home delivered meals. The Agency on Aging uses the Salem Senior Center without paying rent, but does not receive other county funding.
Goal: Improve General Fund
"This year, our County General Fund, with carryover (money leftover from the 2012 budget) and anticipated revenue is $2,029,730," Judge Willet said. Counties can budget up to 90 percent of expected revenue but the new budget, which totals $1,728,318, calls for spending just 85 percent of 2013 revenue. By reducing spending, the Judge said the county is "trying to build up the general fund," by not budgeting about $301,412 available dollars.
"I think you guys need to be commended for the effort you made to put this budget together. I think you've done an excellent job," J-P Jim Bicker told the county officials involved in the proposed budget. Bicker drew laughter by adding, "If you'd done this sooner, I might have stuck around," referring to the fact he did not run for re-election this year, after years on Quorum Court.
Judge Willet added thanks for the cooperation of all county officials, "Everybody has made a lot of sacrifices to try to help county general."
Justices of the Peace Bicker made a motion to pass the budget as proposed. The motion was unanimously approved. County Attorney Dwayne Plumlee will now draw up a formal ordinance, which will be approved at the December meeting, as required by state law.
Budget Challenges Remain
For several years, the county has tried to build up its general fund, which runs low on money despite buget plans. The shortfall, which causes the county to use state funds and road roads in place of county tax dollars, hit about mid-year this year. Because the county has taken early draws from the state, its final settlement of accounts with the state will be $10,000 or more less than it should be.
In other business, J-Ps authorized the county judge to enter into a contract with Dilbeck Construction of Mountain Home, the company which was the lowest bidder on a project to pave two mile sections of Fairview Road, south of Salem, and Pickren Hall Road, east of Viola. The $425,822 cost will be funded with unused disaster assistance money.
The Judge reported that he had just received formal notice that USDA Rural Development had approved the county's plan to build a new jail. That clears the way for a closing on a low interest USDA loan of up to $2.1 million. The county's bond attorney has advertised the county's plan to sell bonds, and a 30 day comment period is now underway. That means that the county may be able to accept bids for the project by late December.
As required by state law, Quorum Court passed the official tax rates for Fulton County cities, schools, county government and the road fund. No tax rates changed from this year's rate.
The next scheduled meeting of Fulton County Quorum Court will take place on Monday, Dec. 10, at 7:00 p.m. The meetings at the county courthouse are open to the public.