Budget OK'd at last moment

Monday, September 28, 2009

Marshall County's Budget Committee on Thursday morning accepted a revised school budget and recommended it for County Commission approval next month.

The seemingly routine chain of events ending on Oct. 6 could be in time for the county to continue to receive monthly payments from the state in mid-October, in time for faculty pay checks.

Fiscal years start on July 1, and while Marshall and other counties usually adopt continuing resolutions to spend money at the same rate as authorized one year earlier, county commissioners on the budget committee have, for several weeks, told members of the school board budget committee to hold the line on spending.

The schools budget was presented to the commission's budget committee four times this year. Twice the number was the same. Then it was down about $100,000. The version presented Thursday was down by another $500,000.

Revenues for the last fiscal year and the one just started are at about $33.5 million. Spending is substantially the same, going up from $33.92 million to $34.13 million. The deficit comes from reserves.

"We're trying to protect ourselves for the next two years," Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the budget committee said.

Counties are to maintain a level of spending on schools as well as start the school year with a reserve fund that is at least three percent of spending. The two state requirements working at the same time tend to always increase appropriations if school administrators spend reserves. It's frustrated commissioners who didn't budge from their demand that spending remain the same.

The state also requires counties to submit approved budgets by Oct. 1 so Basic Education Program (BEP) funds can be calculated, but that deadline was revealed to be flexible in recent weeks.

BEP funds are held in escrow until a budget is adopted, but even that raised a question of when the money would be released by the state.

"We don't normally get the money by the 15th anyway," Schools Budget Director Janet Wiles said at the conclusion of Thursday morning's Budget Committee meeting.

"I think I'm OK for payroll," Wiles said. "Custodians are paid on the 20th. That won't be a problem."

Faculty, administrators and others are paid "at the end of the month," she said.

As close as that seems, appearances were the subject of complaints from commissioners on the budget committee and they were aimed at school system officials.

Street talk about commissioners not knowing the budget process is "not appreciated," Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel said.

"I don't understand $70 million budgets, but I understand mine," Wentzel said.

When commissioners indicate their preferences when committee assignments are to be made, there were "only five" who wanted to be on the budget committee, he said.

"I do understand it better now after meeting so many times," he continued, adding that financial decisions are made by people who are on the budget committee.

Commissioner Mary Ann Neill spoke up with Wentzel and King, explaining the committee was trying to what seems best even though it might not be popular.

Public comment on the school budget will be accepted at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 6. The commission is scheduled to adopt the budget at 6 p.m. that Tuesday night.

A legal notice displaying the county budget is on page A9 of this edition of the Marshall County Tribune.