MOULTON — The Lawrence County administrator told county commissioners the lack of proper funding remains a problem, and the county must find new revenue to keep from going into the red in fiscal 2020.
Heather Dyar said cutting some county services and programs may be necessary to offset the anticipated shortfall.
She said dwindling property tax payments by International Paper for its closed plant and shrinking Tennessee Valley Authority in-lieu-of-tax receipts are two of her main concerns as budget talks begin in a couple of weeks.
“In 2012, TVA money was about $1 million,” she said. “It’s $460,000 now.” She said the county will be losing about $200,000 in property tax from IP after the removal of equipment and an implosion at the plant in the northern part of the county in early May.
“That was a loss we didn’t anticipate,” she said. “We got to have new money.
“Nobody wants new taxes. It’s either that that or cutting some programs, looking at salaries. We’re operating seven senior centers. Why? Cutting that number down won’t be popular. Nobody is going to like anything we do. They’ll have something negative to say about it. We’ve got to look at salaries, and look at programs not bringing in revenue.”
District 4 Commissioner Bobby Burch said it’s been difficult to make any traction against the dropping revenue numbers. “It’s been a challenge to create a rainy day fund for the general fund. We’ve learned to say no to everybody,” he said. “There’s not a department in this county that doesn’t need help. All we can do right now is say no, no, no. We’ll continue to push our legislators to create more revenue.”
He said a sliver of blue sky is the tax revenue loss from IP’s departure in March 2014 has about ended.
“We’re at the final chapter of IP in this county,” Burch said. “It looks like the ceiling has lowered since IP closed down. Now, we are finally realizing it’s going to stop.”
Unregistered manufactured homes
County Revenue Commissioner Brad Henderson offered a pair of revenue-generating suggestions to the commission. He said his department will begin enforcing a violation for mobile homes and manufactured homes that haven't paid a registration fee to the county. Henderson, who just finished his first year in office, said he has started going across the county pushing the previously ignored decal registration of the homes.
“We’ll probably be picking up about 400 homes a year for the next four years,” he said. “It’s too early to estimate the amount of revenue this would generate.”
He said it could easily add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the county's coffers.
Henderson also asked the commission to implement a $3 mail fee for citizens buying vehicle tags online. Budget numbers show Henderson’s department has spent $26,898 fiscal year to date on postage; that’s $8,898 or 149% over the budgeted amount of $18,000, according to the revenue statement. The estimated cost for the year is nearly $40,000, Henderson said. He said the county has absorbed the postage cost on tag mailings in the past decade.
“We’re just looking to get our money reimbursed,” he said. “Buying tags online is convenient and has become popular with our citizens.”
Dyar told the commissioners the county has transferred $300,000 out of the road and bridge fund to bolster the general fund this year. She said another $200,000 will be needed to be transferred out before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
“Next year will be the same at this rate,” Dyar said. “We’re still looking at a $200,000 deficit next year. We’re pulling money out faster than we can replenish.”
Burch said the money does not have to be repaid to the road and bridge department.
Overtime over budget
Dyar said the sheriff’s and jail’s budgets are practically untouchable. Lawrence Sheriff Operations Capt. Amard Martin asked the commissioners for at least one more patrol officer, two vehicles, cost of living raises and jail overcrowding to be eased. The sheriff’s budget is $2.2 million, and $1.5 million has been spent year to date. Seventy-eight percent of the $1.01 million jail budget has been spent, county records show. Overtime in both departments is over budget. Sheriff Max Sanders, who took office in January, has spent $102,844 in overtime with $99,464 budgeted. On the jail ledger, the department’s OT is 127% over budget with $32,465 spent of the $25,522 budget.
“Overcrowding in the jail continues,” Martin said. “We’re trying to work with the judges to get people in and out of the jail.” He said heroin and crystal methamphetamine are the latest problem drugs leading to mental rehabilitation issues. “We’re also losing people with experience because of the pay,” Martin said.
Dyar told Martin there would be no raises. “We’ve got to look at making some kind of cuts,” Dyar said. “Obviously, we can’t cut sheriff and jail. They’ve got issues going on now with the lack of jailers.”
District 3 Commissioner Kyle Pankey said a possible merger of the central 911 and sheriff dispatchers should save money.
Burch said he would like to see any realized savings stay with the Sheriff’s Office.
Dyar said 911 operates on an $80,000 budget. “How are they going to take on additional duties and fund it?” she asked. “You’re putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging problem. That money would have to stay in the sheriff budget. You’ve got to have new money.”
The commission will hold a regular meeting 9 a.m. Friday at the courthouse annex on Alabama 157.