Department heads seek equipment, positions at commissioners' budget workshop

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

BOLIVIA—County department heads went before county commissioners Wednesday, May 27, to plead their cases for why they need more county financial support.

During a grim budgeting process, most county departments and nonprofit agencies are slated to receive reduced, if any, funding from county coffers.

“We started with more than a $17 million deficit, cut $6 million to a $10.7 million deficit,” county manager Marty Lawing said about the upcoming fiscal year’s budget process.

Lawing then met with county department heads and, “beyond those meetings, I made additional cuts, about $3 million to cut us to where we are now,” he said.

“Most recommended budgets for departments are less than the current fiscal year. Our goal was to have every department budget lower than it was this fiscal year. There’s very little capital and capital outlay in the budget,” he said.

“Many departments got zero capital and zero outlay. The ones that are recommended to get some capital items, it’s probably not as much as they want.”

“I had to cut more than I wanted to,” he said. “I’m sure we cut things that you didn’t want to have to cut. Actual line items have been reduced. I feel that it is a realistic budget with the information that we have right now if departments are very frugal throughout the year and diligent in administering their budgets.

“They’ll have to monitor budgets on a monthly basis.”

Finance director Ann Hardy said property tax collection is down $2.5 million, or 2.5 percent from the start of the current fiscal year.

Total expenditures were cut to $149.5 million, which is $8.8 million less than last year’s budget, Hardy explained.

Hardy said she expected the county to finish out the fiscal year, “somewhere between break even and $2-3 million in the red.”

“The unknown is what is so difficult. Once you adopt a budget and it goes out to departments, it’s very difficult to control expenditures,” she said.

Emergency Services

Randy Thompson, director of emergency services, said he had “two areas of concern for the budget process,” one of which was the emergency medical services division.

In his budget request, Thompson requested 15 replacement cardiac monitors, which he later reduced to 10.

At $22,000 apiece, Thompson said the cardiac monitors are critical equipment. The units that need to be replaced have already surpassed their six-year life expectancy, he said.

Thompson said he wanted commissioners to, “Actually understand what we’re discussing—what the impact of not replacing these would have on the public.”

Displaying one such unit to commissioners, Thompson said, “This one is 10 years old.”

The process to purchase and receive cardiac monitors takes between seven and nine months.

“If we put this off, we’ll be looking at receiving new units at double the life expectancy.”

“For this one project, you’re looking at about $220,000. Hopefully the fees we’re going to collect for our transfers of this fiscal year are going to pay for these units,” Thompson said.

“We’ve accomplished much, much more this year with our revenues than what was expected. If we were able to spend those dollars and allocate those dollars, we would certainly look to adjust our operating costs.”

Superior court

“As the economy turns downward, our business goes upward,” Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis told commissioners.

Lewis, who requested $325,070 from the county, said the superior court office has been “good stewards” of county funds. Citing drug treatment court, which Lewis started last July with grant funding, “we promise to continue to be good stewards,” she said.

With the number of participants of drug treatment court on the rise, Lewis said they would continue to seek out grant funding.

“We apply for grants when they become available and, like everyone else, keep our fingers crossed.”

Lewis asked for funding for another new program run through superior court, mental health court.

Of the four mental health courts in the state, “Our mental health court is the only court not currently being funded by the county. I sincerely hope you will give us the money to do that.”

Lewis said mental health court has reduced operating costs of the Brunswick County Detention Center.

“We are working hard, and I believe that our numbers prove it,” she said.

Other department heads’ comments included:

•Social services director Jamie Orrock asked for four positions in the social services department. Orrock said with the increased caseload facing the department, “we just cannot expect the staff to continue to maintain the quality that we expect,” without increasing employees.

•County health director Don Yousey said he wouldn’t request anything additional from commissioners.

“I’m not going to ask you for anything. I’m here to thank you. We’ve tried to give some back this year, and we’re proud of that. I want to think you for holding the line as far as county employees and benefits.”

•Stephanie Lewis, operations services director, asked for a reclassification of one current employee for $7,000.

“I wouldn’t ask for that expect I’m hoping to retain this employee.” Handing commissioners a list of grants and awards the employee received, Lewis said, “She’s brought in more funding than her salary.”

With the deputy director of operations position projected to stay vacant during the upcoming fiscal year, Lewis said she “can make that work, as long as I can keep her.”