Commissioners to pass budget in Aug. before leaving office

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

By Karen Hall


Budget Director Catherine Brooks told budget committee members last week she hoped the county budget could be passed on Aug. 25 -- the last act by the current commissioners before they hand over to the newly elected ones.

Working backward from that date, Brooks gave dates for the public hearing on the budget, the date it would be proposed to the commission, and the date for the departments to have their budgets in to her office (April 1). Brooks said she hoped to have the Board of Education's budget for the schools by June 15.

"There's a lot going on this spring and summer," she said.

In other business at their meeting, budget committee members heard from Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Hopkins.

"I'm going to retire, come June," he said.

"You've been saying that for 15 years," exclaimed Commissioner Dean Delk, who quickly added, "Just joking!"

Hopkins said the EMA committee and County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett were working on finding a replacement for him.

"I promised I would work a couple of days a week as a consultant," Hopkins said. "But I will turn all the responsibility over to someone else. Elizabeth is also retiring when I go away, but we'll let the new guy hire a replacement for Elizabeth."

Hopkins also talked about the price of the loads of water the EMA delivers to local homeowners and farmers.

"We need to go up on the loads of water," he said. "It's been $30 as long as I remember." At some point in the past, the price of a small load was cut to $25, but Hopkins recommended it be raised to $35, with the larger loads to cost $70 and $60, instead of the current prices of $50 and $60.

"I think that's what we need to do," Hopkins said. "In light of the problem with the truck -- it will help a little with that."

He was referring to the wreck of one of the tanker trucks in January. The truck was running empty on Delina Road, Hopkins said, when the front end started shimmying and the driver lost control. The truck went through a fence and hit a tree.

"It didn't do it any good," he said. In fact, the insurance company called the truck a total loss, though the tank and the pump are undamaged. The insurance claim has not been settled yet, but Hopkins has been looking into replacements for the truck. It will cost $17,000 to get the tank transferred to a new chassis, and the nearest place to get this done is in Mississippi. He gathered prices of new and used trucks, and reported they started at $60,500 for a 2002 Freightliner.

"I don't see we'll ever be out of the water-hauling business," he said. "We run every day delivering water, sometimes seven or eight loads a day during a drought. It's a very important part of the fire response and emergency management, too."

"What does your committee recommend?" asked Commission Chairman Nathan Johnson.

"Come to you all to get some money," said Hopkins. "If there's a way to do it, I'd buy a new truck. The committee recommends I bid a new truck."

Johnson reminded the group that the chassis of the old truck could be sold for scrap, and a salvage yard might pay for the motor, transmission, and so on.

"Don't let that fall through the cracks," he cautioned.