County begins budget process


Madison County commissioners last week conducted a budget workshop and heard from department directors, most of whom requested salary increases and slight modifications to their individual budgets.

Justices of the Peace Jon Stevens and Lew Plotts continued their fight for $300-per-month mileage allowances, rather than having to calculate the odometer each time they make a trip.

“I drive from my house to the jail or the hospital or a wreck. Some days I may make two or three trips back and forth, but I’ve never [claimed] it,” Plotts said. “If we had a normal allowance it would be easier than filling [paperwork] out all the time.”

County Auditor Toni Joyner balked at the request during a previous meeting.

“You expect this task to be performed by everyone in the county except the people sitting at this table, so I’m not exactly sure why you’re feeling it’s a tremendous burden to these two people,” Joyner said in a July 25 meeting. “I would also ask how you came up with the $300 figure.”

Joyner added at the time that the JPs averaged about $100 per month in travel costs over the last three years.

During last week’s hearing, Stevens showed his support for the change, noting that when he submitted his budget, he “zeroed out” the mileage allowance and added $3,600 to his proposed salary to cover mileage.

Commissioners did not vote on anything during the July 27 workshop but used the opportunity for dialogue and to ask questions of the department directors.

Precinct 1 Constable James Weathers requested $35,000 in his capital outlay budget to purchase a Ford truck. His current vehicle has almost 145,000 miles on it and was not designed for police work, meaning it has a smaller radiator and less suspension.

“Every time I turn it on, all the ‘check engine’ lights come on,” Weathers said.

Precinct 2 Constable Charles Turner said his budget remained about the same but he added funds into his capital outlay budget for a protective vest.

“There’s too much mess going on right now,” he said, referring to recent attacks on law enforcement throughout the country. “It’s just something I’ve decided to do.”

County Judge C.E. “Butch” McDaniel supported the purchase.

“There’s places where we want to cut costs but I think this is one where we shouldn’t,” he said.

Veterans Service Officer Danny Singletary said he’d like his office to host two or three events each year but noted that he could significantly decrease the current amount budgeted for capital outlay. Although he proposed a 3 percent salary increase, the amount would be minimal on his $10,000 salary for the part-time job.

Singletary was one of the few department heads who said he thought he could decrease his current $26,371 budget by about $5,000.

“When I put together a budget, I try to look at what we can accomplish in the next year,” he said.

County Clerk Susanne Morris requested a slight increase in her postage budget and suggested that county employees use individual codes to use the postage machine, so the bill goes to the correct department.

The current keypad prompts the user to select a department, but it’s not tied to an individual, and if someone is in a hurry and just presses the top button, it goes to the Auditor’s Office, Joyner pointed out.

Discussion also ensued about potentially costly but much-needed bridge repairs and upgrades to Raney Lane.

“We need to get with the school district and the city on Raney Lane,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Ricky Driskell. “I got a bid for blacktopping but that won’t include things like turn lanes.”

Emergency Management Coordinator Shelly Butts requested $25 increases in cell phone allowances for herself and two employees.

“We’re on call 24-7,” she said.

Butts added that if any funds remain in her capital outlay budget, she’d like to add conference tables to a vacant office space to use for meetings.

Elections Administrator Earl Parker was one of several who requested a salary hike.

“I think I’m worth more than what you pay me now,” Parker said.

Training needs were discussed with almost every department director.

“Continuing education is mandatory but certifications are not,” said Tax Assessor-Collector Karen Lane. “I believe the more classes and training you have, the better off you are.”

The county’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The current budget was approved in September 2015, with general fund expenditures set at $9.4 million and revenues projected at $8.5 million. Judge McDaniel cast the lone dissenting vote because he did not want to approve a deficit budget.

During last year’s budget talks, commissioners opted not to increase the tax rate of 55 cents per $100 assessed valuation.