By Billy Davis
Panola County supervisors, viewing conservative financial totals, were cautioned that county government is entering a new budget year with approximately $107,000 in discretionary spending.
“That is your only money to play with,” Administrator Kelley Magee told the board toward the end of a three-hour budget meeting Wednesday.
“What you’ve got to do is prioritize in your mind when the requests are coming in,” she added.
The meeting marked the first budget meeting of supervisors, who have watched with concern as revenues from vehicle tags and property taxes have slowed to a trickle during the current recession.
Supervisors saw figures provided by the Panola County tax collector’s office that showed 2,052 vehicle tags, purchased for a newly purchased automobile, were issued in June 2008. Last month, only 492 vehicle tags were issued – a decrease of 1,560.
The county board is set to return Tuesday, July 28 for a marathon session that will start at 1 p.m. and may run all afternoon.
They are working toward a September 15 deadline to finalize the 2009-2010 budget.
The board reviewed its first budget request Wednesday from Arlene Wilson, county director for the Mississippi’s Department of Human Services.
“We are not asking for any increases,” Wilson informed the board.
Magee told supervisors, with Wilson present, that the DHS office always stays within its annual budget.
“I try to be conservative,” Wilson replied.
The DHS director kicked off a brief discussion of renovating the former North Panola Hospital in Sardis when she mentioned that an agency within DHS is paying $950 in rent each month for a storefront building in Sardis.
The three-year contract with First Security Bank expires in October, she said.
“I’ve been saying for years that we need to look at that building. You can put a lot of people in there,” said Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright.
Panola County EMA Director Daniel Cole followed Wilson. He went line by line through the budget for Civil Defense office, which oversees emergency operations for the county.
He also discussed the E-911 budget, which funds sheriff’s dispatchers, some salaries and telephone services. Cole shares the E-911 budget with the sheriff’s department.
After making adjustments to his budget, the EMA director said he was requesting an increase of only $2,868 more than last year.
Cole also asked supervisors to consider a salary adjustment to make his salary comparable with other department heads.
The pair of budget presentations were followed by a 40-minute discussion of revenue and expenditures, with Magee also moving line by line to describe and explain figures.
Budget figures showed some positive signs, too, including news that many county departments, told to watch their spending, have spent less than last year.
Magee compared year-to-date figures from 2008 to 2009 that showed a savings of $987,609 for Panola County over the previous year.
A tally sheet that supervisors viewed Tuesday shows that 21 departments have spent less than the previous year. Fourteen others have spent more.
The biggest savings were realized in the Board of Supervisors budget, which has spent $443,714 less than last year, figures show.
The second-highest savings was at the Panola County Airport. The airport board has spent $285,107 less than last year.
The sheriff’s department rounded up the top three, showing a savings of $232,990 over last year.
Magee and supervisors did not discuss any specific cost-cutting measures or grant funding that may have led to some of the savings.
Other savings came from the election commission, the chancery clerk and chancery clerk’s office, the constables’ budget, and the buildings and grounds budget.
The largest spending has been in the Panola County jail, which is budgeted separately from the sheriff’s department. The jail had spent $75,379 more than the previous year, figures show.
The second-highest spending came from Panola County Justice Court, which had spent $67,737 more than 2008.
The county administrator also told supervisors that their switch to a new health insurance provider will save county government $120,000 over 12 months.
Referring to her budget estimates, Magee said she follows a budgeting axiom of figuring revenues low, and expenditures high, in order to ensure a financial cushion.
“Those are conservative figures I’m using,” she told the board.
“That’s what we want. We want to be frugal with our money,” replied Supervisor Bubba Waldrup.