After months of work, weeks of debate, and hours of discussions, White County’s Budget Committee has put together a final copy of their proposed budget for the 2021/2022 fiscal year.
The budget came after approving the spending plan and agreeing not to reduce the tax rate, leaving it at 2.05, in a budget committee meeting, on June 2, and then presenting a copy of the proposed budget again at the committee’s regularly scheduled meeting, on June 7.
“We would like to have the budget passed tonight - [the one that] we’re going to present to the full court commission for their consideration and approval,” committee chairperson and county executive Denny Wayne Robinson told the group of commissioners that had gathered in the conference room at the courthouse, on June 2.
Robinson clarified for the visitors in attendance that he wanted to change some of the verbiage that was used to help make the budget, and the process of achieving a balanced one, more transparent.
“We’ve always used the term deficit budget, and that’s just a term,” he said. “[However], it implies to people that’s not in the loop that we’re spending more than we’re taking in, more than we have, and that’s not an accurate description of what’s happening.”
Robinson said there are several items the county doesn’t always buy every year, but they have to be included on the budget.
“We can only [show] that expenditure one time,” Robinson said. “We can’t show where we’ve saved up [over a period of years] to get it, so a lot of times that shows a negative.”
Robinson went on to explain the county’s budget committee uses an abundance of caution when estimating annual expenditures, and this can result in overestimating the amount they will need to spend on projects or emergencies over the course of the year.
“We always expect the worst when it comes to expenditures,” he said.
In the June 2 planning meeting, the possibility of a paid emergency management agency director was once again brought up, when discussing expenditures.
“I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll mention it again - I think we do need to pay an EMA director – not me – I will step down as soon as we hire somebody and be more than happy [to do so],” commissioner Stanley Neal told the budget committee. “But I thought they were leaving money on the table by not having a part-time [director].”
Neal said the county could recoup up to 50 percent of what they budget for the positions from the state and federal government as they have grants and programs that will send funds to counties who have paid EMA directors.
“If you want a dollar amount, I will throw out the amount of $800,” he suggested, saying that Clay County provides $1,000 a month for their part-time EMA director.
Once again, the topic of a countywide fire department was touched on, with one commissioner asking if any responsibilities of helping with the volunteer departments could be added to the EMA position. Another commissioner said the state may reimburse as much as $600 for volunteer firefighters who complete 30 hours of training.
“The county’s not in a position to capitalize on resources that are out there because we don’t have somebody that does it,” commissioner and committee member Roger Mason stated. “I think we are missing out on an opportunity because we don’t have somebody coordinating it [the county’s fire departments] now.”
“Definitely we need to get the EMA [director] because there is money that potentially can come back for that,” Neal told him, “But do you want to add fire in that? Fine, so be it, but I’m not going to discuss that.”
Ultimately, all of the committee members agreed they had to start somewhere and the part-time position for EMA director was agreed to be included in the proposed 2021/2022 budget, rather than a full-time EMA director/fire chief.
A discussion about whether to decrease the property rate from 2.05 to 1.95 took place, with Robinson pointing out that reducing the rate would only save a person who owned a home that had been appraised at $200,000 an average of $50 per year. It was decided to leave the rate set at the current 2.05 as this would be the best way to meet the current needs of the county and prepare for the future.
Other numbers were discussed for providing for a part-time judicial commissioner, patrol cars, salary increases for some of the county’s employees, projects, other usual expenditures, and several programs.
On June 2, the budget committee came to an agreement upon a spending plan, and, on June 7, they finalized the budget and sent it to the full commission for review.
There will be a public hearing at 5:30 p.m., June 21, 2021, for any members of the community who would like to hear or discuss the budget before the full commission votes on its approval during their regular called meeting at 6 p.m.