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December 28, 2014

Proposed Cleburne budget has county at $1.2 million deficit

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Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2014 5:49 pm | Updated: 5:57 pm, Thu Aug 28, 2014.

Cleburne County’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 relies on dipping into the county’s reserves to get through the year, but some county commissioners say they want to change that.

Commissioner Laura Cobb said she would rather the county not spend from its reserves at all and would like to see expenses cut instead.

The 2015 budget estimates $6.7 million in income and $7.9 million in spending — about a $1.2 million deficit. The spending is slightly higher than fiscal year 2014’s $7.7 million budget and the estimated revenue is about $100,000 lower. County Administrator Steve Swafford said the lower revenue estimates are primarily based on a drop in income from court costs.

The Cleburne County Circuit Clerk’s office estimates it will process about half the number of traffic tickets this calendar year that it processed last calendar year. The county receives $60 from each ticket for roads and bridges and the county jail.

The county is expecting to have carryover funds in the Sheriff’s Office and the county jail, Swafford said.

“If not for that, it would look worse than it does,” he said.

Nearly every department’s budget is smaller than or the same as the budget it worked with last year. Swafford said that was accomplished by cutting things other than staff. No one would be laid off under this budget, however a request for an additional drug investigator by the Sheriff’s Office was not included, Swafford said.

The budget includes some pricey projects such as replacing windows at the Cleburne County Courthouse, which will cost about $230,000, and replacing a control board for lights, doors and intercom system at the jail, about $50,000. It does not include any spending for road and bridge projects planned for the next fiscal year. The county is hoping to repave County Road 10, and several bridge projects that already have been approved by the Alabama Department of Transportation may be ready to kick off soon.

“We’ll be addressing those as they come up,” Swafford said.

Swafford said the county has about $400,000 in capital improvement funds it can provide as matching money for the projects. Any funding the county would have to front for the projects, and which would later be reimbursed, would have to come out of regular operating funds, he said. That’s why it’s important for the county to have some money in reserve, Swafford said.

“It’s a lot easier to conduct your business when you never get close to the bottom,” he said.

The proposed budget includes a 2.5 percent raise for employees, a total of about $80,000. It also includes $45,000 in additional expenditures — $15,000 for Cleburne Search and Rescue, $25,000 for the Heflin Industrial Development Board and $5,000 for the Cleburne County Chamber of Commerce — that the commissioners approved at their meeting on Monday.

But Cobb said she had substantial changes she would like to make to the budget before approving it. For instance, she doesn’t think the county should give employees a raise this year. She also thinks the county has too many employees for its size.

“I really believe we have to look to cut back some of our staffing,” Cobb said. “We need to sit down and review each department.”

Commissioner Bobby Brooks said he would also like to see the raises removed from the current budget, but had no other changes in mind.

The current fiscal year’s budget estimated dipping into reserves for $800,000 to balance. However, Swafford said that estimate may have been a little low and the county may show a slightly higher deficit by the time all the fiscal year’s bills are paid.

Attempts to reach Commissioners Emmett Owen and Benji Langley for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

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