DOBSON — County department heads came before the Board of Commissioners last night, hat in hand, as they presented their budget requests for next year.
The presentation came as the board re-convened its April 1 meeting, which was postponed from last week due to illness among the board.
While County Manager Chris Knopf noted that last night’s meeting was simply an opportunity for the board to get a first glance at the departmental requests, he noted that they are just that — requests.
“This is very, very preliminary,” he said yesterday afternoon. “This is a chance for the department heads to submit their requests, whatever comes out of this meeting will be addressed as we get down to budget work.”
Department heads seemed to understand that the county is in dire financial straits, having to dip into cash reserves to the tune of more than $5 million this year to hold the county’s tax rate steady.
The county’s $70,512,445 budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year is funded primarily through property taxes, (42.7 percent) and service fees and grants, (26.1 percent).
Major expenditures for the county include education (32 percent), public health (13.6 percent), social services (15.7 percent) and law enforcement (9.1 percent).
This year, the county used $5.3 million from the county’s fund balance to balance the budget and prevent a tax increase, a move he said he doesn’t believe can continue.
“That $5.3 million figure is a high number, and the question will be can we do that for another year,” he said. “While I foresee a similar budget situation this year, if we can’t use fund balance we’re going to have to cut somewhere, but I won’t know where that will be until mid-to-late spring.”
Presently, the county has a tax rate of 58.2 cents per $100.
During Monday’s meeting, requests were held to a minimum, with department heads telling the board that they understand the county’s plight.
Samantha Ange, director of the county’s Health and Nutrition Center, told the board that despite having more than 200 employees and expected losses of more than $400,000 in federal and grant monies, she was only requesting $47,499 more next year than this year.
“We’ve shifted employees around as a result of retirements to save some funding, and have withheld filling 15 positions,” she told the board.
Ange’s department has a current county allocation of $2,065,318. She is requesting $2,112,817 from the county next year to help close some of the gap in federal funding.
Social Services Director Wayne Black told the board that he is looking at a “worst-case scenario,” and is asking for a county contribution of $3,779,832 next year, an increase of $328,355 over the current budget.
If funded, the increase to Black’s department will fund a receptionist, a caseworker, a social worker and some part-time staff to help handle the increasing caseload associated with food stamps.
“We’re swamped,” he said, noting that he understands the board’s predicament. “This is a disappointing budget from my perspective this year because it’s up. For the past two years we’ve been either right at the previous year’s levels or a little less.”
Like Black, Sheriff Graham Atkinson told the board that he is holding tight to his budget as well.
Atkinson is asking for $164,112 for two new deputy positions and associated vehicles and equipment.
In addition, he is requesting $93,700 for 10 replacement computers in his office, which he said “may have been used by Noah to navigate the Ark.”
“We actually need to replace about 24 computers, but are asking for 10,” he said.
The sheriff is also requesting $148,615 to replace vehicles and purchase in-car cameras for his deputies, and $39,576 for a new detention officer at the county jail.
County Emergency Services Director John Shelton is asking for funding to refurbish three ambulances that exceed 300,000 miles each, at a cost of $322,000.
He is also seeking $320,000 to replace 15 heart monitor/defibrillator units.
Shelton is also seeking funding for two new radios, at a cost of $3,000.
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.