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Commission warned- budget will be tight

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By Jennifer Caldwell

While the 2008-09 budget cycle is over, the county’s 2009-10 budget has yet to be determined.

With no budget amendments to vote on Jeff Marlow, finance director, left commissioners with plenty to consider during Monday’s budget and finance committee meeting.

For months Marlow has warned the commission that the upcoming fiscal year will be a lean one.  

With a decrease in sales and property tax collections the group will be forced to adopt a budget that allows for no growth during the 2009-10 budget cycle. In essence, what the commission has in the coffers is what it will have to make due with.

As Marlow again laid the grim facts before the commission he presented them with the bottom line.

“If it’s not in the budget forget it or figure out what you’re going to cut,” Marlow said.

Commissioner Ann Smith took an opportunity to call Marlow’s logic into question.

“Don’t you think there are going to be times that we have to do things that are not in the budget,” Smith asked Marlow.

Although Marlow did not dispute Smith’s assumption that unforeseen expenses may arise, he suggested that preparing for such items from the beginning would be the best way to handle them.

Marlow advised commissioners that the best way to prepare for unexpected needs throughout the year would be to consider a five or 10 cent tax increase.  This suggestion was met with an adamant no from Smith.

Commissioner Bobby White did not dispute Marlow’s information, but instead made an observation about the commission’s previous spending habits.

“All year Jeff Marlow has been warning us that the money is not coming in, but by George we are spending it,” White stated.

Following up on his comment, White then questioned Marlow about the current jail situation.

“Mr. Marlow what are we going to do with a lawsuit that forces us to build a $12 or $14 million jail,” White asked.

Marlow did not offer a concrete solution, but said the litigation due to the jail’s current overcrowding situation is a distinct possibility as an inmate has launched a formal complaint regarding the matter.

Despite woes with the jail commissioners voted against implementing the litigation tax.  If adopted the tax would have tacked an additional $25 onto most court fees to be used for jail improvements.

While several commissioners argued the fees were already exorbitant, Marlow said it was a relevant solution to consider for generating income to improve the jail without impacting the taxpayers as a whole.

“Revenues are down.  If you want to generate revenue without addressing the taxpayers this is a way to do it,” Marlow explained.

While the vote to adopt the litigation tax failed in the budget and finance committee, the matter will be revisited at Monday’s commission meeting.  Ten commissioners must vote in favor of the measure in order for it to pass.

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