County spending cut

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nearly $200,000-worth of spending requests were cut from Marshall County's $35 million general fund during a Budget Committee meeting that lasted more than three hours on Monday night.

Another $500,000 should be cut to bring requested spending in line with revenue, according to Budget Committee Chairman Mickey King. County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett reported last week revenues from sales and property taxes are down by $1.1 million.

Other adjustments to the general fund, which is half the County budget without school system spending, have been made, but more are needed.

Such is the lot of those panelists who plan to return to the cutting room at 4 p.m. one week from today.

Meanwhile, effects of the recommended reductions: Prompt invitations to a couple of department directors to visit the cutting room; Continue debate over increased medical insurance costs, and; Answer county spending questions that otherwise might fade into the shadows of their innocuous place in the budget.

At one point, County Accounts and Budget Director Freda Terry offered to "go into revenues and see if I've under-estimated," and County Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill replied, "I don't want to do that."

So, line-by-line, the various parts of county departments' spending requests were examined for places to cut.

For example, Register of Deeds Dorris Wayne Weaver discontinued a full-time position when Glennis McClure retired.

"They asked the department heads to cut their budget," Weaver said. "I did what they asked.

"I've cut that down to a part-time person, if they allow that," he continued, calling his new employee "a fill-in person... like a substitute teacher."

The employee, Jamie Maynard, is Weaver's sister and he responded clearly during a telephone interview on Wednesday morning when he said, "She's also used by other departments, too."

While Weaver budgeted $10,800 for the part-time position, the Budget Committee agreed to eliminate that spending from the general fund. Meanwhile, some Budget Committee members spoke about having a "floater" employee capable of working in several departments.

"That's a good term for it," Weaver said of having someone he can "call in as needed" when other employees can't work.

"We just can't function" with less than two people in his office, the register of deeds said.

The need for a "floater" became more evident when employee health insurance changes were announced.

"Everybody got scared," Weaver said. "People started scheduling surgery before the first of July ... because the health care would change. That's when I got in a bind with one lady here with myself."

That development with county employees rushing to get medical attention for conditions they'd not treated would appear to affect county spending other ways.

Employee medical insurance terms were to increase coverage deductible payments from $500 to $2,500, a plan that prompted a major reaction by employees and so the commissioners have called for bids on the policy.

Now, "The bidders have reviewed the county employees' claims records," Terry reported.

As a result, more insurance bids are expected to be higher, she said.

"When you've got a group, claims hurt you," the budget director said.

Several spending requests are recommended for elimination because they were budgeted the year before and the money wasn't spent.

Some spending of funds in the budget approved last summer was with money allocated for something else, and Commissioner Jimmy Wolaver has volunteered to call for a policy to be approved on July 27 when the commission meets. It would require department leaders to get permission to change their budget before such spending could happen.

Then there are contracted services that have had increases. One is the county attorney's position. Two years ago, the county spent some $22,000 for legal advice. It's now costing $44,000.

"That's a chunk of change," Commissioner Don Ledford said.

The chairman agreed.

"We've got to stop questioning everything we do," King said.

Neill commented: "It's not going to go away."

Such comments were thinly veiled references about Commissioner Billy Spivey. The outspoken commissioner has questioned procedural matters, but has also prompted greater attention to bidding practices.

Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel noted that when the county struggled with legal issues over rezoning for a quarry, the legal bills didn't grow so fast. Also at that time, the county was rewriting its 20-year growth plan and faced landfill issues.

"All three are highly contested issues," Wentzel said.

Ethical issues have also consumed the county attorney's time, and that costs money.

"It troubles me that we have commissioners who don't want to work as a group," said Ledford who emphasized he has no problem with disagreements, but asked if a lawyer must be consulted every time.

Some $4,000 was cut from the anticipated cost of the county attorney during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010.

A long-standing debate among commissioners is whether the schools' maintenance department should be expanded to provide services to other county buildings.

The savings were said to be $15,000 to $20,000 annually, a savings that might be spent to correct a catastrophic problem.

"It's still the right thing to do to save taxpayers money," Ledford said as other commissioners indicated they believed the county might reach an agreement with school system officials on how to avoid hiring a cleaning service, a lawn care business and related contractors for repair and maintenance of the courthouse, its annex, another office annex and various other county buildings.

Few of the recommended spending cuts were large. Several were reductions in office supplies, travel and the like. Some cuts weren't needed because the department directors had cut their requests. That includes County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett. His office budget was about $144,000 last year. It's to be $8,235 less this year.