County to have budget ready soon

Published 1:32 am Saturday, September 6, 2008

County officials said Friday they hope to have the 2009 fiscal year budget ready for approval on Sept. 23.

Chairman Greg White said he expects the numbers to include a proposed cost of living adjustment and a slight increase in health care costs for employees. White said he also expects the new budget to include increases in both revenue and expenses.

“That’s all to be expected,” White said. “Each of the department heads was to have their proposed budget turned in by Aug. 15. Here in the office, we’ve been compiling the data that was not controlled by department heads — basically filling in the numbers.

“In the areas of insurance, we’re going to see a small net increase in liability and workmen’s comp insurance,” he said. “In employee health insurance, we’re only going to see a minimal increase this year because our claim experience has been good during the last two years. We were able to move from a standard rate plan to a preferred plan — which is cheaper.”

White said he personally would propose a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for county employees; however, he declined to specify an exact amount.

“I’m hoping for something similar like last year’s 3 percent,” he said. “The budget is a conservative tool. Living within the budget is the problem, and the COLA will be driven by what the numbers allow.

“We’re going to strive to make this budget as accurate as we can make it with the numbers we have,” he said.

Just a year ago, a depleted surplus and increasing operational costs left the county “struggling” to cover expenses due to sagging revenues and rising expenses from everything from fuel to supplies.

Areas such as revenue from National Forest receipts, sales tax collection and gas tax collection have fallen short of budgeted amounts, while revenue received by federal government for the operation of the road and bridges department have remained the same.

White said early projections show an increase of ad valorem tax collections but not sales tax collections.

White, who lost his bid for re-election as chairman in June, said he expects to sit down with each of the chairman candidates, Lynn Sasser and Johnny Mac Weed, next week to discuss issues for the next fiscal year.

A series of budget hearings is tentatively set for the week of Sept. 15-19; however, no specific date has been set.

White said each of those hearings will be open to the public.

The next Covington County Commission meeting is scheduled for Monday at 9:30 a.m.