After entering the hearings Tuesday with the need to cut $352,077 in requests out of the General Fund, the council finalized initial approval of the budgets with $430,234 in cuts, meaning an additional $78,157 can be added to the county's 2011 operating balance, which was originally budgeted as $500,000.
"We will still be able to collect the maximum levy balance and this gives the county a little extra boost going into next year," Clay County Auditor Mary Jo Alumbaugh told The Brazil Times. "It is not the largest operating balance the county has ever had, but we are in much better position than we were coming into this year with a $100,000 operating balance."
While the county is currently in an improved financial state, it did not come without a little sacrifice.
Knowing the Prosecutor's Deferral Fee Fund is not very healthy at the current time, Clay County Prosecutor Lee Reberger volunteered to reduce the proposed 2011 budget by $12,000 to $124,093, and informed the council he would be approaching them during the regular meeting in October to request a reduction of approximately $20,000 in the same fund off this year's budget.
"The income stream did not even come close to covering the requests," Reberger told the council. "In the past few months, the fee has been bringing in about $4,000-$6,000 per month, and in order to fund the budget, it needs to be closer to $10,000 a month."
He added that not all ticket deferrals come through the county as Brazil and Clay City have their own deferral fee. Also, after the state collects its portion of the $191.50 deferral fee, the county receives approximately $100 per deferral.
"For any tickets written for infractions occurring on roads in those two areas, the deferral fee goes to the respective entity," he said. "However, I appreciate the council's patience and we will work to build the fund back up."
Meanwhile, the council revisited the Sheriff's and Public Safety Local Option Income Tax (LOIT) funds to make final tweaks and cuts.
During Tuesday's initial review, Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton told the council the $23,310 for holiday pay in his budget could be moved to the LOIT budget to create some extra room in the General Fund.
However, the council had to make a decision regarding requests for a new deputy and new drug investigator in the Sheriff's Fund, and the request to purchase four new cars and two new SUV's in the LOIT Fund, due to the high mileage and extensive wear and tear on the current vehicles.
The majority of the council were in agreement that at least three new cars should be allowed, but opinions differed on the SUV's and staffing components.
"We have a serious drug problem in this county, and the first function of government is to protect the people," council member Larry Moss said. "I am personally in favor of approving three new cars, one SUV and an additional deputy because the workload had increased dramatically in recent years, and so has the number of prisoners. This isn't just because of the added capacity of the new jail, but also because there are more violent offenders and we need to leverage the funding we have available to maximize the benefit for the long term."
Dolores Johnson, who was also in favor of approving three cars and one SUV added, "I don't think you do a good job, I think you do an excellent job. But as far as the employee request goes, I'd like to say yes, but the judges requested additional staff and we denied them, so right now I'll have to say no. Hopefully the budget will continue to improve next year and we can make it happen then."
Heaton acknowledged that he knew the full extent of his requests would not be granted, but admitted the attempt had to be made.
"If I don't ask, then I'm not doing my job as Sheriff and as an elected official to do what I feel is best to protect the public," he said. "I understand that you have your job get the most out of the budget that you can to create the best situation for the taxpayers, and I respect that, but if I don't fight to continually improve the law enforcement capabilities, then I'm not doing my job.
With a $162,000 request in the LOIT fund for the six proposed vehicles, the council approved a $42,000 reduction, and the purchase of three new cars and one new SUV in separate motions.
"Nobody questions the performance of the Sheriff's Department," Brian Wyndham said. "They have a monumental task to do, and they need to have sufficient equipment and vehicles to perform at their maximum ability."
In another move, which was discussed Wednesday, the council rejected the proposed budget of the Clay City License Branch, and moved to close the facility as of Jan. 1, 2011.
"When it was approved to reopen the license branch in 2006, there was a consensus agreement that if things got to the point where it could not support itself, it would be closed," McCullough said. "Unfortunately, with the potential of being more than $30,000 in the hole at the end of 2011, it has come to that."
Council members agreed this year's budget hearings ran much smoother than in recent years due to a complete group effort among all the offices.
"Everyone worked hard and took into consideration the budget restraints by not requesting many increases in supplies," Council Vice President Rita Rothrock said. "There are a lot of positives in all the offices, and it has made us better off financially than a lot of other counties."
"The LOIT has really helped us as far as giving us some more breathing room in the General Fund," he said. "The whole point of the tax was to help the county as a whole, and it has done so in a tremendous way. However, we still have to keep battling and keep a close eye on things from year to year because we have to pay attention to what the state does when it comes to the distribution of funding."
McCullough told The Brazil Times factoring in the Public Safety LOIT into the 2011 budget was the toughest part of the hearings, and credited Heaton for his willingness to be flexible between it and the Sheriff's budgets.
"(Mike) should be commended for his efforts in putting the two budget proposals together," McCullough said. "With such a broad scope the LOIT currently has, he was able and willing to work with us to come with a compromise on the requests. We weren't able to give him everything he asked for, but he considered the anticipated 8-percent reduction in the LOIT funding for 2012, and everyone came together to make things work."
The council will meet in a special session at 6 p.m., Monday, Sept. 20, in the Commissioners' Courtroom at the Clay County Courthouse to take final action on the 2011 budget.