Commission passes disputed 2014 fiscal year budget

The Blount County Commission last week passed on a 3-2 vote the 2014 fiscal year budget it has discussed and debated in weekly budget meetings since Sept. 5. The budget projects estimated revenues and expenses covering the period Oct. 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2014.

Total expenditures for the period are projected in the budget to total $17,094,353, 5 percent more than the 2013 budget, but 5.3 percent less than the 2011 fiscal year budget, the highest in the county’s history.

Revenues for the 2014 budget year are estimated $15,740,942, about 0.8 percent more than last year. Total revenues for the county fell from $17,156,993 in 2009, the high-water mark for county revenues, to about $15,600,000 in 2012, improving only slightly in 2013, but projected to improve more for 2014.

Voting in favor of adopting the budget were District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert and District 4 Commissioner Gary Stricklin. Voting against were District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong and District 2 Commissioner Carthal Self. Commission Chairman Chris Green broke the tie with a vote in favor of adoption. Statements on the budget

Armstrong: (I voted no) “due to the commission wanting to use road money for economic development, and because they weren’t willing to cut expenses in other categories we discussed, like Palisades Park, to use one example. Every time we want to do something in this county, the road budgets take the hit. That’s one reason why we don’t have as much money as we should have to get the roads in the shape the public wants. I sat there through a month’s worth of meetings, and it sounds to me like three of them have decided on coming up with a tax plan. We gotta be willing to make tough cuts to the budget before we start talking about more taxes.” Armstrong also said he objects to the method of handling retirement costs of road crew employees. Those costs are currently taken directly from road budgets, he said, rather than from the general fund, as are retirement costs for employees of other departments. (Ed. On economic development, a proposal was made during budget planning discussions to set aside approximately $110,000 from Road and Bridge Fund 112 – and accumulate money annually until it reaches an amount sufficient to fund an economic development plan. Armstrong led opposition to it. A consensus did not emerge, and the proposal was not included in the final budget.)

Self: “There is so much waste in this county, I’m just afraid if we don’t eliminate it, it’s going to lead to more taxes. There’s cuts we could have made to help with that, but we didn’t. There was that discussion we had about Palisades Park, remem- ber. We didn’t do as good a job as we could have done, and that’s why I voted against the budget. We can’t go on spending more than we’ve got coming in. Sooner or later it’ll come back and catch us. We need to get our house in order before we ask for more taxes. We also need to do more to create jobs in this county, I want our kids to be able to come back home and work here. What I want to do is make everything better for everyone in the county, not just my district.”

Calvert: “Based on my three years in office, I will say this is the most efficiently-run county in the state of Alabama. I’m not taking credit for that. It’s all the commissioners and administrations that have gone before us, and we’ve just continued the work they started. This is a good budget. When we get through tweaking it, it’ll be even better. Yes, we have some concerns: how to fund the county match portion of ATRIP (Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program), how to solve the Chamber of Commerce problem, (Ed. The commission allocated $50,000, but did not determine how it is to be divided between chambers.). There is a need for a formal economic development program, but that takes a lot of money, and there’s none allocated for it. If we’re going to have a program, we’ve got to figure out how.”

District 4’s Stricklin: “I feel like the budget we approved for 2014 is the best budget possible for the money we have to work with. We needed to make some cuts to some departments’ operating budgets considering the economic times, and we have – we did. Considering the county’s reputation for financial integrity and its financial standing generally – I think we upheld those things pretty well. I stand behind the 2014 budget 100 percent. Am I saying it’s perfect? No. But I support it all the way and there’ll be some adjustments to it as we go along. It doesn’t address economic development, for one thing, but there’ll be more discussion on that as we go forward. One thing I want to know before we start talking about doing it is whether the people really want economic development. Do they really want to be like Trussville, Leeds, Birmingham, and some of these other places? We’ve got a lot of people in Blount County who moved here to the country get away from places like that. I think we’ve got to be sure we really want what we say we want.

Green: “Under the circumstances and economic conditions we face, the 2014 budget is a good budget and I support it fully. We tried to avoid making budget cuts that would hurt people and that would decrease services the county provides. We’re approaching a time when that will be an increasing challenge, and we will need to plan carefully for it. I would note that the commissioners who voted against the budget had opportunities to express publicly their objections to the overall budget during the business meeting when it was presented in detail – but they chose not to do so.” (Ed.– The Blount Countian interviewed all four commissioners and the chairman on two days following the business meeting, asking them to explain their reasons for voting as they did.)

The 184-page budget binder, containing a detailed itemization of expenditures covering some 70-odd accounts and more than 1000 line items, is available for public inspection at the commission staff office at the courthouse.