Last updated: July 18. 2013 7:48PM - 444 Views
Jack Latta

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PRESTONSBURG — A first reading of the 2013-14 budget is in the books, after a special meeting of the Floyd County Fiscal Court Wednesday morning.

Court members were bound by law to present a balanced budget by May 31 to be approved by the state, before having a second reading at their regular meeting in June, but at least one official has doubts the budget is grounded in reality.

District 1 Magistrate John Goble made the motion, and District 4 Magistrate Ronnie Akers seconded the motion, for the first reading of the 2013-14 budget which trims $100,000 from the jail’s budget and $300,000 from the road fund. A vote by the magistrates is not required until the second reading of the budget.

The court did not arrive at the conclusion without controversy, however, as officials frequently sparred over the details. District 2 Magistrate Hattie Owens said that court needed to review the budget again, because it was different from the one they had agreed upon during last week’s work session.

“We worked on this the other day and we come in and we have a different budget,” Owens said. In particular, Owens was referring to $200,000 that the magistrates agreed to transfer out of this year’s construction fund, a “rainy day” account, and advance into next year’s budget as revenue.

During last week’s work session, magistrates agreed to move that money to next year, in order to replace $150,000 in revenue that would be generated by a proposed garbage rate increase, insurance tax, and a hotel tax. “It was our understanding that we would use that $200,000 to make up for the $150,000,” said Owens

County Treasurer David Layne said magistrates could advance that money, but because it is actual cash, first they must pass a resolution to transfer it out of the account.

“You can transfer that money over now, and use it for whatever you want,” Layne said, adding that he had tried to transfer it out of the account during the last regular meeting, but magistrates had voted against it.

Owens said they voted against it because Layne wanted to use it to pay $156,000 in contractor fees for three separate projects which Judge-Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall deemed emergencies. Court members insist the county has the money to pay those contractors without using the rainy day fund. Magistrates agreed the $200,000 would be split up and placed into line items in the road fund to help offset cuts in that department, which before the transfer would have been $500,000.

The amended budget, which the magistrates agreed upon, leaves no room for more than $800,000 in invoices Harpo Castle says he plans to present to the court.

Magistrates and the judge have alternated roles for the last several months in their attitude that if the court doesn’t have invoices, it doesn’t owe any money. Owens chastised Marshall during an earlier budget work session for not being upfront about work performed by Castle and the money the county allegedly owes, saying she was tired of the “games.” The county attorney opined during that work session that if Marshall knew the work had been done, he should not pretend it doesn’t exist.

However, as gripping budget constraints have become more apparent, magistrates have also taken up the “no invoices equals no bills” philosophy and embraced operating through omission, finding a balanced budget easier to attain without the Castle deficit.

The meeting became terse when Layne told court members the county averages $1.1 million a month in expenditures.

County Attorney Keith Bartley asked Layne pointedly how the county has a budget crisis with only $13.2 million in expenses and a $15 million budget. Layne became heated and said he didn’t have to sit there and be “ridiculed” over the nature of the budget, before taking several moments to explain the intricacies related to fixed and fluid expenses.

Layne explained that the total budget comes in at $15,250,000 while $13.2 million of that is fixed. The remainder is budgeted for projects based on a presumption of incoming revenue from the state or other sources, which may or may not materialize. If the money becomes available, the project will move forward; if not, it won’t.

“I didn’t mean to make you think I was ridiculing you,” Bartley said. “I’m just trying to understand.”

Budget constraints aside, magistrates still found room to provide for fiscal court employees. Magistrates have been truculent about placing any of the county’s financial burden on county employees, eschewing proposed increases in health care deductibles and work furloughs, while also giving court employees a raise.

The 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment is outside the norm for other local and state governments in the midst of ongoing economic strife. Budget cuts have forced Prestonsburg city employees to go without a raise in the upcoming budget, and state workers have not received an increase in wages since the 2009-10 fiscal year. Health care deductibles for Prestonsburg city employees are also six times higher than the county’s.

The crux of the upcoming budget, Hattie Owens says, is that everyone, every department, must stay within budget parameters. If a department cannot stay within those bounds, it will be up to each to make appropriate cuts to get by.

Still, Judge Marshall believes the budget will fall short. Last week, after the work session with magistrates, Marshall said that he did not believe the amended budget agreed to by the magistrates was “realistic.” Following Wednesday’s meeting, Marshall released a written statement to the Times regarding the county’s financial woes.

“In my opinion, this amended budget proposed by the magistrates will not provide adequate services that this county needs to support and maintain our county road system,” Marshall said in the statement. “It is a duty of this fiscal court to provide ample revenue to support the adequate services this county deserves.” Marshall’s statement will be printed in its entirety on Friday’s “Viewpoint” page.

District 3 Magistrate Warren Jarrell was not present during Wednesday’s special meeting. The fiscal court will meet again in June to hear a second reading of the 2013-14 budget.

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