Supervisors hear suggested cuts to bolster budget
By Billy Davis
A methodical trimming to Panola County’s $9 million general fund budget will save an estimated $487,923, county supervisors were told last week.
Supervisors met Thursday in Batesville at a called meeting, where they followed up their request made in February that department heads should create savings wherever they can.
The county board first heard a report from road manager Lygunnah Bean, whose department budget is second largest after the sheriff’s.
Panola County EMA Director Daniel Cole followed Bean, and County Administrator Kelley Magee, prepared with a two-page list of proposed department cuts, followed Cole.
Panola County Supervisor Gary Thompson suggested more than once that the request for budget cuts is just that – a request to keep a close eye on expenditures.
“We’re not talking about taking money from your budget,” Thompson said.
Panola County government is facing a serious budget crunch during the current 2008-2009 fiscal year that supervisors have said could become a budget crisis in the new fiscal year.
Magee and supervisors are concerned that a $3 million cushion that began the fiscal year could be reduced to $1 million when the new fiscal year, now just seven months away, begins October 1.
The reasons? The current recession is hurting projected tax revenues, and supervisors have also said they were misled to believe that the budget they adopted last August was financially sound.
Magee, after taking office in August, has said she found recent overspending in past years that ate into the county’s reserves.
For Panola County government to have sizeable reserves next year, at least $1 million in cuts must be found and followed, Magee told The Panolian Monday.
Magee further said a majority of budget cuts will come from the county’s general fund, since it includes expenditures in county departments that allow for possible budget trimming. (The entire county budget is $18.6 million).
The county road department is not included in the general fund, which means the $240,996 in savings cited by Bean would be in addition to the $487,923 cited by Magee later in the meeting.
Bean said the $240,996 in savings equals six percent of the road department budget.
He said savings could be realized by swapping around vehicles; selling two dump trucks; performing in-house work on a costly dozer motor; and by not filling two employee positions.
Magee reported cost-cutting efforts in 10 county offices and the county airport, and the Miss. State Extension Service and Health and Human Services, which are both partially funded by the county.
The largest savings cited by Magee was $130,000 for overpayment of property insurance in 2007 and 2008.
“We are collaborating with our insurer, Whitten Insurance, about this matter,” she explained to The Panolian afterward.
Magee also cited $108,832 in possible savings at the sheriff’s department if the department pays for its $15,140 cell phone budget with drug-seized funds; sells seized weapons instead of destroying them; and uses the seasonal law enforcement fund to pay James Rudd, the former chief deputy.
Magee also cited that the department stands to save $42,000 after a pilot was removed from the payroll.
Panola Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright, whose budget is the largest in the county, was present at the supervisor’s meeting but did not deliver a report to supervisors.
With Bright present, Magee told supervisors that she had not collaborated with the sheriff about the suggested budget cuts.
Magee also suggested that Panola County government stands to save $80,000 if it works with the City of Batesville to seek grant funds for the long-planned animal shelter.
The City of Senatobia and Tate County government sought and got a similar grant, she told supervisors.
Among other large cuts, first suggested by Cole then cited by Magee, was a savings of $27,500 if Panola County EMA halves its equipment purchase budget.
A frequent suggestion at various county departments was elimination of duplicate phone lines.
After the meeting, Magee said she failed to inform supervisors of another hopeful figure: compared to March 2008 figures, county expenditures are $561,000 less than the previous fiscal year, she said.