Pickens budget plagued by unknowns, tax hike may be necessary

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A five-hundred page report is what the Board of Commissioners has to examine in their struggle with the 2014 budget. That is no small task to undertake, nor was compiling it a small task for the financial department.While the ultimate outcome holds hope, the current state of affairs to create a balanced budget before year’s end is a tough decision for the board.

The issue putting a cloud over all departments is skyrocketing insurance costs.

The finance and accounting departments which had previously been separate entities are now combined so there has been a small increase in their budget as personnel changes have been made but in the overall picture with the two separate budgeted areas moving into one, the costs are actually lower despite the $22,000 change.

Jones further delineated the history of the two departments being consolidated by explaining that through the years there has been a decrease in personnel and additional duties assigned to those remaining. He said they’ve whittled the departments down to bare-bones, that any additional cuts would catch the auditors’ ire as it would impede the separation of duties and checks and balances.

The buildings budget was a difficult area to address. Although the government has become more efficient and been able to decrease the multiple buildings its used in the past, with the new courthouse being an unknown and having no history to fall back on as far as maintenance and utilities they truly had to make budgetary guesses. That budget increased $23,000 but the real picture of those costs won’t become apparent until that history is established.

Another area affected by the unknown electricity costs of the courthouse is the Clerk of Court budget. Their budget increased around $6000 due to that factor alone. The department had originally sought $524,000 but were able to make adjustments to come in at $502,000. However, Chair Rob Jones questioned that, reporting last year the salaries were at $325,000, the same asked for this year, and per Clerk of Court Gail Brown’s own admission their workload has been cut 50 percent due to probate and magistrate court changes that shifted the duties to those respective offices.

Jones asked Harvey to delve into why Brown was overbudget the preceeding two years and how that will play into her budgetary requests for 2014.

“I’m just saying if she’s got her budget increased because of that issue but yet she’s lost 50 percent of her workload maybe the $325,000 needs to come down a little more,”

he stated.

The contingency fund is sitting at $509,000 right now but Jones would like to keep that number near the 500k mark as winter approaches the severity will be unknown, barring any unanticipated equipment issues with the road or water department or other unknown factors.

A look was taken at the revenues where Harvey indicated they are down $176,000. She said there is a $523,000 difference between revenues and expenditures to the favor of the red column. The decrease in grant money, a steady property tax and a serious strike to the pocketbook when the new vehicle tax laws took effect all factored in to that figure. However, with the contingency fund in place the true shortage comes out to around $23,000.

Jones said a T.A.N. (Tax Anticipation Note) may be the way to address issues. He said that the cost of a T.A.N. only becomes a problem when you begin pulling it at which time interest payments are due. Other items that may help the deficit are to reduce the contingency or to raise the tax figures.

Denney said since many departments are currently under budget that should help offset next year’s shortages should they occur but the issue that plagues them now, per Harvey, is that the budget must be balanced before the end of the year regardless if those numbers reconcile themselves later on.

Jones also brought the proposed S.P.L.O.S.T. to the table as a saving measure where those funds currently budgeted in those areas would be much lower as the funds from the tax would be matched rather than the full amounts shown. But once again, that doesn’t help them balance those year-end numbers.

In the end a property tax hike may be the only option to balance the budget should the voters decide against S.P.L.O.S.T. That hike may go on the books to balance the budget now…and may continue past March of 2014 if that occurs.

Due to continuing examination and adjustments, no set budgets are releasable at this time. However, the final proposition should be cleared for advertising at the board’s November 21 meeting. The hurdles after that will be a public hearing on December 5 then final adoption at the board’s regular meeting following that.

The discussion in its entirety may be watched here:

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