Commission approval contingent on response to three debated items

2014 BUDGET PREVIEW

Budget discussions this year didn’t hit the snags that have often dogged them in the recent past: whether to give employees a raise, how to allocate district road budgets, how to absorb large increases in employee medical insurance costs, and whether to cut appropriations to various agencies– both state-funded governmental ones and and local nongovernmental ones – subsidized annually by the commission.

But debate, nevertheless, buffeted discussions over three other allocations: 2013’s funding of (1) $60,000 for the Blount County – Oneonta Chamber of Commerce, (2) $236,278 for Parks and Recreation, mainly Palisades Park, and (3) $8,989 to supplement the state-funded salary of the Blount County Circuit Court reporter, paid by the county since the time the Blount and St. Clair judicial circuits were split into separate circuits a number of years ago.

Here’s the apparent status of those items as they were left at the end of last Thursday’s budget meeting. None of the information in the budget preview below will be officially decided until the budget is voted on and adopted by the commission tomorrow.

•The Chamber of Commerce appropriation is to be reduced to $50,000 in the final budget proposal. The $10,000 cut from that budget will be reallocated to support the Agri-Business Center, an allocation debated extensively in past years, but occasioning little discussion this year. The consensus of the chamber discussion was that the $50,000 amount was appropriate for activities performed by chambers of commerce, whether located in one organization or more than one organization in the county. Commissioners agreed to determine later how to divide the amount between at least two different organizations – the Blount County – Oneonta Chamber of Commerce and the West Blount Chamber of Commerce. Suggested was a formula based on membership of existing chambers, which would result in a 3 to 1 split between the Blount County – Oneonta and the West Blount chambers. The decision on details of the split was deferred until after budget approval.

•The Parks and Recreation allocation remains as proposed in the 2014 budget at $236,278 – the same level adopted for 2013. Discussion centered around the wish on the part of two commissioners to reduce the amount of annual funding allocated to Palisades Park in order to realize savings that could be passed on to district road budgets. Those increased funds would be applied toward improvement of county roads not eligible for state and federal funds. According to that view, the park should be required to move toward selfsufficiency in order to reduce the burden on the county general fund. The view that prevails in the 2014 budget is that park operation is efficient as it stands, and that the amount budgeted is justified by providing citizens with recreational opportunities. In addition, according to that line of reasoning, it provides the county with a tourism venue that is an economic development asset and attracts valuable out-of-county publicity and patronage.

•The $8,989 court reporter salary supplement remains in the budget as of the close of last week’s meeting. Two possible ways of handling the matter were discussed: (1) removing the amount from the budget, then restoring it by budget amendment later if necessary, depending on subsequent court ruling or legislative action directing the county to do so; (2) allowing the amount to remain in the budget, but not dispersing it until such time as it becomes appropriate depending on subsequent judicial ruling or legislative action.

Which method will be reflected in the budget will not be known until it is presented in final form for commission approval next Thursday. At that time, the commission will not initially discuss these three items or vote separately on them, but will vote the budget up or down in the form it appears on presentation, according to Commission Chairman Chris Green.

Below is a summary of budget matters that have been debated at length in previous years, but were incorporated this year with a minimum of discussion.

•Employee raises. The budget includes an acrossthe board 1 percent employee raise, the first increase given since 2011. The budget impact of this item is estimated to be $65,000. The increase will slightly more than offset the increase in the employee portion of the health care insurance premium.

•Employee medical insurance cost increases. Increases of about 5 percent in the cost of the county portion of employee health care insurance will be absorbed by the county. The budget impact is estimated to be about $82,000.

•District road budgets. District road budgets are larger than last year, but insignificantly so, reflecting increases of substantially less than 1 percent. Districts 2,3, and 4 will each receive $942,210, compared to $940,076 last year. Reflecting a traditional increment to allow for greater materials hauling costs due to distance, District 1 will get $1,019,414, compared to $1,018,623 last year.

•Support of outside agencies. Of 12 such agencies, with a total 2014 outlay of about $200,000, 10 were level-funded, one was reduced (the Chamber of Commerce), and two were increased (the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Birmingham Business Alliance).