County Budget

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 2, 2011

Shrinking deficit best hope for county’s budget

By Billy Davis
Panola County government is projected to spend $207,000 more than it takes in during the coming fiscal year, supervisors reported this week at their fourth and final budget meeting this summer.   

The final budget meeting lasted approximately five minutes, with little comment about the projected expenditures for 2011-2012. But a statement read aloud by Board President Gary Thompson summarized supervisors’ view: projections may look bleak on paper but they’re still better than in the past.

The statement read: “The budget we worked on my first year in office (in 2008) had an excess of $802,224 in expenditures over revenues but we worked hard and every department worked hard to control spending and we finished that year in the black — that was the first time in three years for the county to finish in the black.

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“For the 2011-2012 year we are looking at an excess of $207,399 in expenditures over revenues for this year but will continue to try to make cuts in expenditures like we have done in the past…”

After the meeting, Thompson said he and County Administrator Kelley Magee had worked on the wording of the statement prior to the budget meeting. Their attempt was to point to recent fiscal years in which the administrator followed a now-familiar tactic of calculating expenditures high and revenues low.
The 2008 fiscal year, for example, ended with a budget surplus of $234,294 despite a projected shortfall of $454,548.

The Panolian reported last summer at budget time that the Board of Supervisors was eyeing a budget year — the one they’re set to finish next month — that was “serious but not terrible,” since county government was sitting on $4.5 million in reserves to make up for an expected shortfall.

Magee was urging supervisors a year ago to trim $232,000 from a projected $800,000 shortfall, with the remainder eating up approximately $568,000 of county reserves.

She also told them last year the budget would be bolstered by a hospital settlement, the sale of Turner Street property, and an overpayment from over-billing by an insurance company. Those three items added $241,000 with one-time revenues to 2011-2012.   

According to Magee, there are no one-time “surprises” coming in 2012 to improve revenue.  
Magee told The Panolian this week that Panola County will finish 2010-2011 with a half-million dollar deficit.

Panola County’s cash reserves will be approximately $3.1 million when the calendar rolls to October 1, she also said.

“There is less revenue and more expenditures,” she said simply.  

The statement read aloud Monday also announced supervisors were denying raises for Panola Emergency Management, where director Daniel Cole had trimmed other expenses in his budget to allow for the pay increases for two full-time employees and one part-time employee.

Supervisors had signaled last week that they would permit the pay increases if Cole slashed his equipment budget for 2012 in half.

The statement explained that supervisors decided among themselves that “if we could not give raises to all employees we were not going to give any,” an obvious reference to Panola EMA.

The statement suggested a pay increase is justified if employees leave and are not replaced, and other employees pick up the workload. That was an apparent reference to pay raises requested in May by Magee, and approved by the Board of Supervisors, that spread pay raises around the Solid Waste office.
Magee has told The Panolian two employee slots were not filled and their work was spread among other employees.

When Thompson asked for comments, Cole asked if the budgeted funds he moved around to pay for salaries would remain in his budget.

“Because if it’s cut from my salary it’s gone for good,” he said. “I won’t ever see it again.”
Some of the monies have been cut from the budget, Magee replied.

Panola County supervisors approved a $50 monthly raise for county employees last year, the first raise in two years.   

“Panola County has not laid off any employee, cut any employee’s hours or cut any benefits for our employees like a lot of counties and cities have done,” the statement read.

The Board of Supervisors adjourned until Tuesday, September 6 for its meeting in Sardis.

A public hearing is scheduled on September 12 before supervisors formally vote to adopt the 2011-2012 budget.