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County looks for budget solutions
budget squeeze w sm
The county budget committee is struggling to find a solution to address the shortfall in the present budget proposal without raising the property tax rate.At a meeting Thursday night, the budget committee trimmed a little more than $300,000 from the proposed 2013-14 budget.Even if the cuts are supported by the entire county commission, however, the proposed plan remains more than $700,000 in the red.Meanwhile, the school board met in a special called meeting Monday night, making few cuts to a budget proposal with a deficit of $1.3-1.4 million, with plans to request $350,000 from the county sinking fund to help cover the difference.Steve Bates, the county’s financial advisor, told the county budget committee Thursday that a 17-cent hike in the property tax rate will be needed to cover the excess amount if another solution is not found.One of the major hurdles officials face is is how to pay for increases in health care costs prompted by the federally mandated Affordable Health Care Act.The new reforms in health care apparently require the county government and school system to offer health insurance coverage to every full-time employee.According to Mayor Mike Foster, the cost to the county general fund to fulfill the requirements handed down from Washington may amount to more than $400,000.Members of the budget committee said they remain “optimistic” that the matter can be settled without a tax increase, more cuts to the budget will be necessary to bring the plan’s expenditures in line with county revenues.The committee made cuts in almost every department, even trimming the sherriff’s department’s already tight proposal in an attempt to remove excess from the plan.Even with the cuts, the controversial proposed addition of new School Resource Officers (SROs) to DeKalb West, DeKalb Middle, Northside Elementary, and Smithville Elementary schools may have to be scaled back to get the plan on track.The cost of adding the four new SROs, including salaries, equipment and benefits would run a little over $230,000 in the first year.Budget committee members Wayne Cantrell, Larry Summers and Jerry Scott said they felt that adding two additional SROs instead of four this fiscal year might be the best solution.That plan would bring the cost of the school officers down to a little less than $120,000.Budget committee members Jack Barton and Marshall Ferrell opined that they would rather try and leave all four additional officers in the budget plan and find some other way to fix the deficit.Summers said that under ideal conditions he would like to see three new SROs, and Cantrell agreed, telling the committee members that he felt that Northside and SES could share an officer due to their close proximity to the city police department, sheriff's department, and each other.The mayor and members of the committee stressed that they still have some time to work on the plan, and they hope to find other ways to make the budget work.