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December 27, 2014

Cleburne Commission dealing with $1.2 million deficit

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Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2014 10:19 am | Updated: 10:23 am, Thu Aug 28, 2014.

The Cleburne County Commission Monday added expenses to a proposed budget that already included a $1.2 million deficit.

Though commissioners didn’t discuss the county’s overall revenue Monday, they approved a $7.7 million budget around the same time last year.

County Administrator Steve Swafford said if the commissioners approve the 2015 budget, the county would be dipping into reserves to make it through the year, he said. Because some of the items included in the budget are multi-year projects and will be paid over several years, Swafford estimated the county would be dipping into reserves for about $250,000 to $300,000 over the next fiscal year which begins Oct. 1.  

Commissioner Laura Cobb asked during the meeting to add two expenditures – a $15,000 allocation to Cleburne Search and Rescue and another $30,000 for economic development to be split $25,000 for the Heflin Industrial Development Board and $5,000 for the Cleburne County Chamber of Commerce.

Cleburne Search and Rescue member Clint Cochran came to the meeting to request funding for the group, which is all volunteer and survives only on donations.

“We’re the only emergency agency in Cleburne County that operates on fundraising only,” Cochran said. “We receive no tax money.”

The economic downturn has impacted the group negatively, he said. Last August, Cochran came to the commission to request some emergency funding to pay the agency’s insurance. The commissioners approved a $5,000 allocation at that time. This year, Cochran asked for a permanent funding stream.

Search and Rescue responded to 19 calls this year, about the same as last year, Cochran said. The group works with the Sheriff’s Office, the Forest Service and the Cleburne County Coroner’s Office. Anytime someone gets lost in the county, Search and Rescue responds, he said.

“On every call that we have ever went on, we have never failed,” Cochran said.

But the agency is strapped. It has a truck it bought in 2003 that it has never been able to buy new tires for. It needs to provide expensive training for its members to do the kinds of rescues they might encounter in the Talladega National Forest and Cheaha State Park. This year, the volunteers of Search and Rescue had to kick in some of their own money to pay the agency’s insurance, Cochran said.

The commissioners unanimously approved the allocation.

Cobb originally asked that the economic development money come from the county’s lodging tax revenue. But Commissioner Bobby Brooks said he would prefer the money come from the county’s general funds.

County Administrator Steve Swafford agreed. The county may be able to acquire funding for the purpose of economic development, he said. But if the allocation is earmarked from lodging tax, the county would be hampered in its efforts to raise the money, Swafford said.

“It’s a stronger resolution without the earmark,” Swafford said.

That would guarantee the funding even if the lodging tax did not bring in enough revenue to cover the allocation.

Cobb agreed to the change, and the commissioners unanimously approved the allocation.  

In other business, the commissioners:

- Changed the commission meeting and work session times to 5 p.m.

- Changed their September meeting to Sept. 22.

- Approved a bid from Anniston-based Republic Services of Alabama for garbage service at a cost of $50.04 per customer, per quarter. That is an increase over the current rates, Swafford said.

- Approved selling surplus fuel from the county fueling station at the equipment shed to Environmental Engineers of Odenville for $1.40 a gallon. The county closed the fueling station after a leak was discovered in the fuel lines.

- Approved hiring Trawick Contractors to replace the windows of the Cleburne County Courthouse. Trawick bid $193,242 to do the job.

- Approved retaining the law firm Waldrep, Stewart and Kendrick to “address outstanding issues with Alabama Department of Environmental Management regarding the fuel spill recovery costs and the Alabama Tank Trust Fund.” The county requested money from the fund to clean up the fuel spill at the equipment shed, but ADEM denied the request.

- Gave the county engineer authorization to seek estimates on removing and replacing fencing on the county right of way along County Road 10. The county would like to repave the road, but can’t do it until all encroachments are removed. This fencing is the last encroachment remaining, said Shannon Robbins, county engineer. The county would have to sue the property owner to recoup the cost, said attorney Doug Ghee.

Staff Writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter@LCamper_Star.

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