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MONEY MATTERS: County budget proposal includes cost of living increase, no property tax hike

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By Shannon Brock

The Spencer County Fiscal Court on Monday approved on first reading its $6.6 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
The budget will not be finalized until the court votes on it after a second reading, which will occur before June 30. Magistrate Jerry Davis was the lone vote against the first reading of the budget ordinance Monday morning.
Judge-Executive Bill Karrer presented the proposed budget near the end of Monday’s meeting.
This year’s budget total, $6,629,168, is up around $500,000 from the initial budget for the current fiscal year, but down approximately $7,500 from year-to-date revenues and expenditures as of March 31. The additional revenue and expenditures are added through budget amendments over the course of the fiscal year.
In fact, the court approved on Monday a third budget amendment for the current fiscal year, which accounts for $247,593 in unbudgeted receipts in the general and jail. Those numbers are not reflected in the year-to-date numbers because they were not officially approved until Monday morning.
The budget includes $4,586,481 for the general fund, which is 69.19 percent of the total budget; $1,735,337 for the  road fund, which is 26.18 percent of the total budget, and $307,350, which is 4.64 percent of the total budget.
The proposed budget includes a 2 percent cost of living increase for county employees, but does not include a property tax rate increase for county taxpayers, Karrer said.
Karrer recommended higher salary increases for some employees, including a $5,000 budgeted raise for the county road foreman, bringing the total budgeted amount for his salary to $65,000. That number includes overtime, Karrer said.
Salaries for the judge, sheriff and county clerk are set by the state and are each budgeted at $78,224 for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Elected officials’ salaries are determined prior to their election and cannot be changed until the next election cycle.
County clerk deputies’ salaries were capped at $165,000 by the Fiscal Court earlier this year.
Sheriff’s deputies’ salaries were capped at $321,996 by the Fiscal Court earlier this year.
The totals for the clerk’s and sheriff’s deputies represent the total salary amount for all of the deputies. The salaries of each deputy is set by the county clerk or sheriff.
A point of contention earlier this year — the current budget did not include the purchase of two new sheriff’s department vehicles even though the court voted to buy them — the proposed budget includes funding for sheriff’s vehicles.
The proposed budget also includes $85,000 for an ambulance remount and $23,000 in payments on the EMS building.
The proposed budget also includes $30,000 for the Senior Citizens Center, which has previously been funded by state and federal dollars. Karrer said those dollars are no longer available and challenges the center staff to create programming that will attract the county’s seniors. If the county sees the facility is being utilized, it may be able to continue to support it in the coming years, Karrer said.
“Our challenge to the senior center is that their goal needs to be develop programs that our senior citizens are interested in,” Karrer said. “We can support that. Maybe if we had that participation, we could continue to support that.”
Karrer compiles the proposed budget based in part on requests from department heads.
Most of those requests were fulfilled, Karrer said, including equipment requests from the parks and recreation department, a capital project to build a larger pavilion at Ray Jewell Park, and two dump trucks with snow removal equipment for the road department.  
The road department had also requested to replace one of its trucks, but Karrer said there wasn’t room in the budget to fulfill that request this year.
Magistrate Davis contends that magistrates should have access to the budget requests from the department heads before the budget is presented publicly — and without signing a confidentiality agreement.
Karrer, however, said that those budget requests are working documents and can be made available to the magistrates before the budget presentation as long as a confidentiality agreement is signed. Because Davis declined to sign the agreement, Karrer did not provide him with a copy of those requests.
Karrer said he also received an open records request for those documents before the public budget presentation, which after researching through the Attorney General’s office, he declined.
Karrer provided the Magnet with copies of Attorney General decisions and opinions, which he says back up his stance.
Karrer made a motion to approve the budget on first reading, which was seconded by Magistrate Woodie Cheek. Karrer, Cheek, magistrates Hobert Judd, Mike Moody and David Goodlett voted in favor; Davis voted against.