Facing the need to cut more than $1.4 million out of its 2010 proposed budget, the Clay County Council took a big step toward their goal Tuesday.
On the first day of budget hearings, the council tentatively cut approximately $518,710 within funds affected by the property tax levy.
"We are doing things a little bit differently this year because of the situation we are in," Council President Mike McCullough said. "Instead of asking for a motion to pass each section individually, we are going to wait until the end so we have the ability to revisit them, which we may end up having to do."
By far the biggest cut which came Tuesday was $450,000 out of the Commissioners' budget for health insurance for the county employees.
"We had the amount of $450,000 in both the commissioners' budget and in the Rainy Day Fund in case the council decided to pay the insurance through the Rainy Day Fund," Clay County Auditor Mary Jo Alumbaugh said. "This creates a little bit of a lighter load on the council because the Rainy Day Fund does not come from tax levies."
The move will not drain the Rainy Day Fund for the county, but the council worked diligently to look over each line item to make as many cuts as possible without eliminating employees or limiting services.
"If there was a salary freeze and no raises are given, which is a distinct possibility, we have cut about $680,000, which includes the requested salary increases for the funds we looked at today," McCullough said.
The bulk of the other tentative cuts included $13,000 from the Sheriff's budget between office supplies and fuel, oil and lube for the vehicles, along with another $40,000 cut from the Jail budget. Of the cuts for the jail, $15,000 was cut from the Medical and Hospital line item, setting it back to $170,000, which was what had been approved for this year, and the other $25,000 came from the line item for inmate meals.
Following a pattern which has worked in years' past, the council is waiting to make decisions regarding salaries and potential new hires until all other line items have been considered, but Sheriff Mike Heaton made his case during his allotted time.
"I am asking for one new deputy, but at the same time we need another jail officer, which I would take over a new deputy," Heaton told the council. "As evidence from the bust we made a couple weeks ago, drugs in the county haven't stopped, and it's not getting any easier."
Looking to squeeze every cent they can, the council inquired about the small amount expended for petit juries from both the Clay Circuit and Superior courts, but the increase in the amount requested for 2010 in comparison to this year.
"We have a lot of pending drug cases coming up, many of which have A, B and C Felony charges, which require a jury of 12 with two alternates, and 90 potential jurors to be called," Circuit Court Judge Joe Trout said, adding trials with a charge of D Felony or lower only need six jurors and fewer people have to be called for duty. "On top of that, you have to take in consideration all the appeals because I have never had a convicted defendant fail to file an appeal."
Council member Larry Moss expressed his concern for making major budget cuts for either court because it is nearly impossible to predict the level of criminal activity.
"You are at the frontline of protecting the people," Moss said to Trout and Superior Court Judge J. Blaine Akers. "It is tough right now because society is a mess."
However, the council decided to reduce the amount allotted for law books back to the $11,000 set for 2009, which is a $2,200 cut from the request."
While the council made a few other minor cuts throughout the day, McCullough admitted they have a long way to go, and not much to work with to make cuts in levy funds.
"We only have a few other levy funds to look over Wednesday (today)," he said. "Nothing in those funds really jump out at us either as some of the requests have gone down for next year. We still have a tough road ahead and we'll really have to tighten our belts."
The second day of county budget hearings began today, at 9 a.m., in the Commissioners' Courtroom at the Clay County Courthouse.