Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tough talks: County can’t cover state funding cuts

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 6/18/2014

The county can’t be responsible for picking up the slack caused by state budget cuts, Steve Harris said.

“[These local programs and agencies] need money to operate, but we cannot fund all of the state’s shortfalls,” Harris, Franklin County Board of Commissioners chair, said.

The county can’t be responsible for picking up the slack caused by state budget cuts, Steve Harris said.

“[These local programs and agencies] need money to operate, but we cannot fund all of the state’s shortfalls,” Harris, Franklin County Board of Commissioners chair, said.

Commissioners met Wednesday morning after a regular county meeting for a budget study session. The board discussed the possibility of rejecting budget increase requests from outside agencies that use county assistance for operation, including the Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance, Service for the Elderly, and Prairie Paws Animal Shelter.

“These are all important services ... but I’m having difficulties in looking at increases for outside agencies,” Harris said.

Commissioners Don Stottlemire and Rick Howard said they cannot support rejecting an increased budget request for Service for the Elderly, which helps the elderly with transportation. The board ultimately decided to allow a compromise and will plan to grant half of The Service for the Elderly’s requested budget. The organization is set to receive $4,164 instead of $8,328.

Colton Waymire, commissioner, said he doesn’t think the board can approve all the requested budget increases from local organizations that use county assistance because the state had reduced their funding. He said he feared setting a precedent that would allow for the state to keep cutting funding and forcing the county to keep raising it.

“Usually it’s demanded of us, but that’s something we always have to watch is trying to cut all slack for the state,” Waymire said. “The state pulls back funding for so many services, we can’t save everybody. That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the service, but that decision was made at the state level. It’s not ours.”

The Service for the Elderly, much like many of the organizations that have requested county assistance, had lost funding from the state and was forced to ask for an increase from the county. Waymire said he understands the service is needed within the county, but because the service collects revenue from a donation plan, he cannot support their full increase request until other revenue options were explored.

“I can’t justify more dollars until a fee for service has been established,” Waymire said. “I understand and appreciate the compassion because some people can’t afford it and they need access to medical care, access to food and everything else. That can also be accomplished through a hardship waiver.”

Waymire suggested the service create a fee to use the transportation service, but allow for hardship waivers because some people who use the service need it, but can’t cover the cost of a fee.

Harris said the compromise was the best option, though the decision was tough.

“That’s why we’re sitting here, to make a hard choice,” Harris said.

Sheriff’s office

Reviewing the requested budget from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, commissioners said they thought it might not be possible to approve the amount requested by Sheriff Jeff Richards to replace three vehicles and equipment.

Richards asked for a $70,000-increase in the capital outlay budget — raising it from $50,000 to $120,000 — to pay for the replacements. The board decided to lower the proposed increase from $70,000 to $10,000, making the $60,000 total for the capital outlay budget still $10,000 more than last year’s $50,000 budget.

The board discussed with Richards the possibility of leasing vehicles and replacing them more quickly than the current ownership route the department uses. Waymire also asked if it was possible the department could use fewer vehicles by not allowing deputies to take the vehicles home, but to drive to work and using a vehicle assigned to them.

Using fewer vehicles didn’t seem like a viable option, Richards said, because the department often has needed to use all vehicles at one time. He said the biggest concern with replacing vehicles was that the department purchased several Dodge Chargers, but there have been maintenance problems that forced vehicles out of service at about 30,000 miles. He said Dodge would not take responsibility for the issues and that several surrounding counties using Dodge Chargers also were having the same problems and receiving the same response from Dodge.

Richards hopes to purchase, or lease, sports utility vehicles because they would be more durable for rural road driving, he said.

“We do need to contemplate and consider something that is sturdier that will hold up to traveling country roads,” Harris said. “But at the same time, we need to look at all options that we have to provide the security and service for our folks in the most financially responsible way we can.”

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