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Council patches highway budget

September 02, 2009
The Crawford County Council last Tuesday approved a plan brought forth by the county commissioners to keep the highway department funded for the rest of the year.

The council voted 4-1, with Bill Breeding against and Joey Robinson and Sharon Wilson absent (Wilson came later), to pay the salaries and benefits of seven operators, as well as the health insurance premiums of all highway department employees, with Economic Development Income Tax monies.

Moving those obligations, which total $188,814, leaves the highway department $142,325 for equipment and supplies, including rock, for the rest of 2009.

That is slightly more than the $110,000 the commissioners thought during a special meeting less than a week earlier. The Auditor's Office, which had discovered storm reimbursement monies from the state that the county hadn't collected, continued to search for revenue and was able to close the gap.

Still, the $142,325 may not be enough, and the commissioners may have to request permission to use a portion of the county's riverboat gaming monies.

The county learned the highway department budget would be underfunded last month when the state notified the auditor that the county's 2009 budget had been unofficially approved, but that a decrease in fuel tax revenue — local property taxes do not fund the highway department — would result in the department receiving about $165,000 less in its main budget than expected.

The commissioners, at their special meeting, had voted to first ask the council to use Rainy Day Fund dollars before seeking EDIT funds, but opted to bypass the Rainy Day monies.

Responding to District 1 Commissioner Larry Bye's comment the previous week that he took a "little bit of offense" to some council members' earlier suggestions that spending is out of control at the highway department, Breeding said his comments were "nothing personal."

"I don't want to hurt no one. I just want proper procedures to follow," he said, explaining why he said highway department officials should first check with the Auditor's Office to determine how much money the department has before they make purchases.

"If a piece of equipment goes down, does the council want us to park it or fix it?" Bye asked.

"We need to get you in a better position" so the commissioners don't have to keep asking for additional money for the highway department, Breeding re-sponded.

Bye, who noted that the highway department has just 10 fewer road miles to maintain than neighboring Perry County but has one fewer employee and a budget that is almost $1 million less, asked the council members if they thought the highway department was overstaffed.

"Does anyone here think we could do with less employees?" he asked.

"I think you've got to do with what you got," Breeding answered.

Jerry Brewer, president of the council, said this year's cut in funding by the state is unusual, as the highway department traditionally has gotten extra revenue from the state at mid-year.

"These guys have really got their feet knocked out from them," he said.

In addition to the $165,000 cut to the main highway department budget, the state mandated the county cut $26,381 and $9,372 from the Cumulative Bridge and Local Road and Street funds, respectively.

The situation isn't going to get any better next year, as the state already has indicated the 2010 highway department budget must be cut even more, likely down to $900,000, which is less than personnel obligations alone.

Just like it did regarding the cuts to the 2009 budget, the council instructed the commissioners, who are in the process of preparing the department's budget for next year, to come up with a plan.

The highway department wasn't the only 2009 budget reduced by the state. Per the state's instruction, the council voted 4-1 (Jim Taylor against) to cut $113 from the reassessment budget and $923 from the health budget. The reductions to the Cumulative Bridge and Local Road and Street funds in the highway department budget were included in the vote.

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