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Lincoln County budgeting for new fiscal year

If all the department heads and managers in Lincoln County get their way on budget requests, supervisors will bump up taxes and pass a budget for the next fiscal year with an additional $765,000 in spending.

But that probably won’t happen.

“You’re gonna be looking at a lot of disappointed people,” said District 4 Supervisor Eddie Brown.

Supervisors on Monday took their first look at the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019, a $21.2 million projection that would require raising county taxes to generate an additional $764,803, a 3.74 percent increase over last year’s budget. The initial proposal assumes all the funding requests and increases made to the board in recent weeks will be granted and gives supervisors a starting point from which to pare down.

They have lots of paring to do. County administrator David Fields called Monday’s budget model a “wild hare,” saying supervisors would not approve the increases it contained.

Supervisors have been tender about spending over the last year as the costs of replacing and repairing bridges has spun up into the millions, and most agencies — inside and outside the county — that have requested funding have had their requests tabled at best, shot down at worst. 

The board wants next year’s budget to go through without raising millage rates, but with almost every department and fund requesting extra money to get by, it remains to be seen if the math will work out. Currently, the board levies 54.94 mills for county government and 50.79 mills for the Lincoln County School District, meaning county residents who live in the county school district contribute 105.73 mills. 

Must have

The county’s general fund is penciled in for an additional $460,457 next year, and some of those costs can’t be helped. Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing isn’t asking for extra money to run the sheriff’s department, but says he needs an extra $137,457 for the county jail, which is housing more inmates for longer periods of time than its budget — unchanged since 2012 — can pay for.

“We’re having inmates longer, waiting on the county’s dime,” Rushing said. “We have some that cost $10,000 a piece, waiting to go into the court system. I’m stuck on that area.”

Rushing said the jail is budgeted to host an average of 75 inmates per day, but is housing closer to 85 per day so far in 2018. It costs around $155,000 per year to feed them 95,000 meals per year, he said.

Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Dustin Bairfield is asking supervisors for an additional $95,000 to handle a busy election schedule that begins in November and carries into next year’s county and statewide races. He said it costs the county around $17,000 to pay poll workers for a normal election, but in a cycle that includes poll worker training, a primary and a runoff election, the county spends around $55,000.

Bairfield said his office plans its election expenses around a projected 75 percent turnout, a best-case scenario. Earlier this summer, the primary election saw a 22 percent turnout.

District 5 Supervisor Doug Falvey asked Bairfield about merging some voting precincts in the future to cut down expenses.

“I know it’s not a favorite topic, but we’ve got to be realistic — we’re paying all that money and some of these precincts don’t have but 30 or 35 people voting,” he said.

Bairfield agreed, but said federal law won’t allow the consolidation of voting places in election years, meaning the current precinct layout is locked in for the next few years.

“We have some polling places that barely have 200 people on the books,” Bairfield said.

The cost of justice is also on the rise. Supervisors’ pare-down budget includes a $72,480 increase for circuit court, $25,026 for chancery court, $18,811 for juvenile court, $14,598 for justice court and $4,250 for “lunacy” court.

Need more

Outside the general fund, the board’s $5 million bridge bond will require a $350,000 payment next year, the single-biggest expense on the proposed budget. The 911 emergency fund is seeking an additional $228,817 and the solid waste fund will need another $200,000 to pay for the higher rates charged by Arrow Disposal Service Inc., which was the lowest bidder when supervisors replaced Waste Pro earlier this summer.

Monday’s starting-point budget also contained 4 percent increases for each supervisor’s road fund, and 10 percent increase for their bridge funds. Of all the increases being weighed, these seem the most likely to survive into the fiscal year.

Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Clifford Galey is asking for an additional $4,608, a 5 percent increase for the $92,155 civil defense budget, all of which is to cover increasing insurance costs. But after asking for close to $400,000 for new radios for the county’s eight volunteer fire departments in recent weeks, supervisors did not give his modest request a pass.

“You’re gonna have to come down, far as I’m concerned,” Brown said. “We’re trying to come up with the money for the radios.”

Since making the initial request on behalf of the Lincoln County Volunteer Firefighters Association early last month, Galey said the association has reduced the number of radios it’s requesting and the price has fallen to $217,488, an amount that can be covered by the requested half-mill tax increase. The eight fire chiefs revised their radio request to cover only those members who routinely respond to emergencies.

“I went back to the fire chiefs and said, ‘Give me what you have to have,’” Galey said.

Brown asked if the association’s needed half-mill could be reduced to a quarter-mill, but Galey said it wouldn’t be enough.

Development costs

Brown and Falvey also wanted to cut back on the allowance Lincoln County gives to economic development. Currently, the county shells out a total of $235,000 for the Brookhaven Lincoln County Economic Development Alliance, the Industrial Development Foundation, payments on the Linbrook Business Park spec building and other development activities. The county and city each pay $80,000 for the spec building, and the two supervisors wanted to know if that amount cut be cut down since McLane Southern has moved into the building and begun paying rent. 

Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop, a member of the IDF, said the payments are held in trust and could be “used in negotiations” if McLane wants to purchase the building outright.

“Why can’t we hold it in trust?” Brown asked. “Everyone wants to hold the taxpayers’ money.”

Bishop did not explain the negotiations when asked by Falvey, saying he would get Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Garrick Combs to give Falvey a call. 

Bishop and other IDF members in July encouraged the IDF board to consider a second spec building if the current building is ever sold or occupied long term.

Civic lesson

At the end of the meeting, Falvey brought up the by-laws of the Lincoln Civic Center Commission, which he has, so far, unsuccessfully urged the board to consider amending. He also said he wants to see a financial statement on the new ballfields.

“Those by-laws say they’re supposed to give us financial reports every quarter,” he said. “It hasn’t come up since we discussed it — is it something we’re going to do, or not going to do?”

District 1 Supervisor and Board President the Rev. Jerry Wilson said the board would discuss the commission’s by-laws at the board’s Aug. 20 meeting.

The board will meet for further budget discussions Thursday at 9 a.m.

EDDIE BROWN