Money is top issue in commission race

Published 12:57 am Saturday, November 1, 2008

For both Covington County Commission chairman candidates Lynn Sasser and Johnny Mac Weed, it all boils down to money and how the county utilizes it.

Both said Friday that the most pressing issue facing

the county is its current economic situation.

“I call it the money crunch,” Sasser said. “It’s a good question and one people want — no, deserve — an answer to. This county has too much debt. We talk about having a bright future for our kids, and to do that, we’re going to have to work on that debt.

“And what we want to find out is what the bottom line is — what is that total?” he said. “If we don’t know it, we can’t work on fixing it.”

Weed said when the current administration passed a more than $20 million budget last month, he knew that it was not a realistic budget.

“We’re about as close to our limit as we can go,” Weed said. “If we get in trouble, we’re really — and I mean really — going to be in trouble. The first thing we need to do is get a true budget. We need to look at the revenue coming in and budget within that revenue.

“When (commissioners) passed that budget I didn’t believe it would ever work,” he said. “Now with the economy in the way it is, people are going to be spending like (in years past). That money is not going to come in the way (commissioners) think.”

The two also agreed that the increasing cost of fuel, as well as “bad decisions,” led to the county’s current financial state. During the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the county went over its fuel budget by more than $250,000.

“We were already over the edge before the fuel situation hit,” Weed said. “I also think the biggest thing is that we’ve spent more money on equipment than we needed and made some bad decisions on buying and building without figuring out what revenue was going to come out of it.”

One such example the candidates cited was the Covington Center Arena.

“Look at that arena,” Weed said. “They owe so much money – a bunch just in interest. When you add (cost) to the equipment costs and look at the budget, you can see that it’s been hard for them to survive and keep up the roads.”

Sasser said the county is going to have to take a serious look the way it handles the operations of the arena.

“The way I figure with the arena is that we are in the hole,” he said. “We have budgeted over $150,000 out of the general fund to operate the arena. What we’re going to have to do, if it’s even possible, is to find some high profile promotions to earn that money back.”

Additionally, one of the biggest expenses facing the county is the costs associated with the upkeep of roads.

“One of the major costs to this county is dirt road maintenance,” Sasser said. “District 3 has more dirt roads than any other district; second is district 1. In order to maintain those roads, it’s going to take at least two motor graders per district. In 3, you almost need one more. The cost of fuel is killing us. That’s what really threw the crunch into the county.”

To fix the situation, both commissioners have unique ideas — Sasser believes in determining the bottom line and cutting expenses while exploring avenues of other revenue. Weed, on the other hand, said first and foremost, the county should cut expenses.

“I think once we do that, the rest will fall into place,” Weed said. “Once we have an idea where we stand, we can see where we need to cut. I’m not talking about jobs. I’m talking about expenses.”

Sasser said he’s “got some ideas” for an immediate plan but did not speak specifically about what those plans are.

Weed said if elected he will “call everyone in and see what we can do to cut expenses.

“No new taxes,” he said. “We’re not going to cut jobs. There are different — faster — ways to pull this county out.”