County approves budget for 2014

By Mac Cordell Press Editor

January 3, 2014

The Madison County Commissioners have approved a budget for 2014 and if all goes according to plans, the county could end the year with more than a million dollar excess.

“The numbers look good to me,” said Madison County Commissioner David Dhume. “It is looking like Madison County is going to have a good year. I still think it is going to be a great year for us and I am excited.”

The commissioners approved a budget of nearly $11.655-million. The Madison County budget commission — made up of county prosecutor Steve Pronai, county auditor Jennifer Hunter and county treasurer Donna Landis — has projected 2014 revenue at about $12.741-million.

According to the commissioners’ office, in 2012 the county spent about $11.455-million from the general fund. The commissioners approved appropriations of about $11.181-million for 2013, but actual expenses were nearly $12-million as of Dec. 16, 2013.

“You would think all counties are experiencing what we are experiencing, but that’s just not true,” said Dhume. “Not all counties are recuperating. That’s just a fact.”

The commissioner said the counties “that have been frugal and conservative with their budgets and have done some planning are the counties that are making a stronger comeback.

“You can live through a downturn, you just have to budget and when you come out, things look better much quicker,” said Dhume. “I have just been impressed with the commissioners and everybody with how well they have budgeted and lived with in their means.”

He added, “Preparation on our part means opportunity in our future.”

Commissioner Paul Gross said it is important for the county to county to continue to operate conservatively

“With this thing past, we need to make sure we don’t take on new governmental expenses,” said Gross. “That would put us back in the same position we’ve been in.”

He said at the same time it is important to continue to invest in the county.

“There is a lot of balance that goes into that thought process,” said Gross.

Commissioner Mark Forrest added, “In the past couple of years, we’ve done a lot to look proactively to see how we can grow.”

The commissioners said they have put an emphasis, in recent years, on public safety.

“That’s what we need to provide as government” said Gross.

That has resulted in increase arrests and subsequently an increased work load for the prosecutor’s office as well as the clerk of courts and the judicial system.

“We need to be fair with these offices,” said Dhume.

Being fair has meant adding some additional staff in these offices and providing some resources.

The commissioners are working to increase resources not only for those offices but for county employees individually.

The commissioners raised the salary line item for each office by 3 percent. The salary for county officials is set by state law based on the size of the county. Dhume said raising the salaries by 3 percent and adding a couple of new employees for the county will add about $100,000 to the general fund appropriations. He said there will also be some additional expenses for benefits based on the higher salaries and added personnel.

The additional personnel in the county is largely due to the increased work for these public service influenced offices the commissioners said.

Another “opportunity” the commissioners have taken advantage of is the hiring of a director for the community improvement corporation.

“That is a county wide initiative to strengthen our overall tax base,” said Gross.

Dhume said by broadening the tax base, “it makes the county more attractive and allows people to be more optimistic.”

Gross added, “These are the things that take long term vision.”

“We look at these things as investing in our community,” said Dhume. “There will be returns.”

The commissioners went through the budget request line by line before approving it.

The commissioner had significant discussion about the auditor’s budget.

“If I have to look at the budget, this is the department that is asking for the largest increase,” said Gross.

As of Dec. 16, 2013, the auditor’s office had spent about $179,000 and had requested more than $209,000 for 2014. A large portion of that increase was due to a request to purchase new furniture for the office.

The commissioners stressed that they need to create a list of capital improvement projects. He said new furniture would be “a pretty low priority in that context, no matter where these dollars come from.”

“This is a situation where we need to say. ‘We need to ave an overall balanced budget,’” said Gross.

“If we don’t start being grateful for what we have and working together and taking advantage of opportunities when they come around, we are going to miss them and it could be a long time before they come back around,” said Dhume.