'7 percent solution' seen for budget cuts

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

One of a few answers to Marshall County's budget dilemma might be dubbed the seven percent solution, according to recurring references during a county Law Enforcement Committee meeting last week.

However, the solution is far different from the "Seven-Per-Cent Solution" of cocaine in a Sherlock Holmes book and movie issued 35 years ago. There's no mystery to the alternative of having each county department cut spending by seven percent.

"It looks like we're going to be about seven percent short from last year's budgeted numbers," County Commission Chairman Billy Spivey told the Law Enforcement Committee, led by Commissioner Scottie Poarch.

As chairman of the commission, Spivey is an ex-officio member of the county Budget Committee so he conditioned his remarks by saying, "I'm not speaking for the Budget Committee." Still, the implication was strong. A reduction in spending by seven percent would balance the budget without new revenue.

Commissioners are loath to increase the $3.09 property tax rate in an election year that's still suffering a recession economy locally.

"We'll have to cut," Spivey said, after being asked by Poarch for his view of the mood at Budget Committee meetings.

Budget Committee Chairman Mickey King has aligned himself with a suggestion from County Building Inspector Don Nelson who said pay cuts would be better than furloughs since many offices would have the same amount of work and the same deadlines.

"If you think you have to have a pay cut to do it..." said Spivey, whose remarks trailed off onto a related point: "Understand ... we don't know what the numbers will be."

Budget calculations include how much:

* Property tax revenue is raised on each penny of the tax rate;

* Of a delinquency rate might be suffered by the county's revenue stream;

* And state-shared tax revenue from sales of alcoholic beverages, big-ticket items and, for the Roads Department, retail fuel sold in the county.

Poarch asked Chief Deputy Billy Lamb how much could be cut from the budget planned for the sheriff who will succeed Les Helton in September, and Lamb spoke of not spending nearly $170,000 provided in last year's budget.

"We've turned in money in the last several years," Lamb said.

Lamb reviewed maintenance and repairs performed with savings, as well as making an old patrol cruiser available for use by Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Hopkins. The EMA director has repeatedly said he's not asking for a new car, but the one he's been using has a blown head gasket.

In joint session, the Budget and EMA committees accepted a recommendation to remove the old engine and install one from a car rolled by a deputy who avoided hitting a deer, according to discussion during several comittee meetings. The old car's wiring doesn't match computer connections in the newer engine, so now a car with repairable steering mechanisms is to be available, Hopkins said.

Such close examination of spending has been part of county meetings on spending.

Gasoline costs might be reduced by having two deputies patrol in one car, according to discussion on May 17 when Spivey commented, "I don't want to jeopardize you too much."

Lamb replied: "If we did, nobody would know when we did it."

After tire condition and other operational costs were reviewed, the committee acknowledged that the county budget would have some relief in a couple of years after bonds are retired and debt payments go down.

Other discussion that Monday night provided the department with some indication on what must be done to the budget request so the commission could adopt revenue and spending plans in time for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Several commissioners have said they'd like to have a new budget adopted before results of the Aug. 6 election are known.