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Crawford County set to decide on balanced budget

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

What was a projected $150,000 deficit just weeks ago has been reversed by the Crawford County Quorum Court's budget committee, resulting in a budget that is balanced and ready for a vote at the Court's Dec. 16 meeting, according to Committee Chair Mary Jan Blount.

She said reducing the budget, which was originally $9.037 million, took the cooperation of several elected officials not on the Quorum Court.

"I'd say (the budget cutting process) went very smooth," Blount said. "The department heads were very cooperative. They worked very well with the Quorum Court."

It was a process she hoped would go easy, warning in November that the Court would make the necessary cuts to the budget whether department heads wanted the cuts or not.

"We're going to give them the opportunity to make their own cuts first," she said. "If that does not happen, then we'll make the cuts we deem necessary."

Among the areas to put cut include the office of Sheriff Ron Brown, which Blount said had expenditures cut by $80,000. The funding cuts at the sheriff's department did not reduce the number of officers on patrol, but instead were cuts to increases Brown had requested, meaning the department would work on a budget similar to the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

Other budget cuts impacted the county assessor's office, though the cuts across the county's budget did not result in any disruptions for staff or residents, Blount said.

"There were not (loss of services). We just basically looked at each office and asked that department to cut where they could," she said. "I'm not aware of any jobs being affected or any services the county provides being affected at this time."

While no staff are being laid off, County Judge John Hall said county employees would not receive pay raises this year, including elected officials with Hall and Brown both the top paid individuals on the county payroll, each bringing in slightly more than $51,000 per year.

The one employee Hall requested a pay raise for was the Director of Information Technology Laura Hall (no relation to Judge Hall). The position is paid $30,000 per year, though the judge wanted to provide a raise of $5,000 due to an increased level of work taken on by the IT department.

"She's taken on extra (work) with the road department on top of what she does. She runs 135 computers, surveillance equipment," he said. "I think ($35,000 per year) is still too cheap, but it's only fair."

Even though the judge said the pay raise for the IT position would come from road department funding due to the level of work she is doing on road department computer systems, the committee declined the request for the raise.

"We did not approve that," Blount said. "That was a request that would have to go through our personnel committee. It could not be approved in the budget. It has to go through the personnel committee first and then they bring it to the budget after that."

Blount said in November that the budgeting process for FY2014 had gone much smoother than the process went in FY2013, explaining that "we were looking at a $850,000 deficit (last year)."

She reiterated that while the budget was tight again during this year's process, the county has come to expect tight budgeting with no windfalls of sales tax or property tax revenues.

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"We have no indications that anything is going to increase," she said. "I feel like wea re going to be looking at a tight budget for several years. I've been on the Quorum Court…next year will be eight years. And we've watched our budget closely all the years that I've been here."

The Quorum Court will vote on the budget at its Dec. 16 meeting. It will be held at 7 p.m. that night at the Crawford County Circuit Court located at 220 South Fourth Street in Van Buren.

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