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County rejects sheriff’s request

Greene County Commission Chairman Chris Beeker has reacted to comments made by Sheriff Johnny Isaac and fellow commissioner Bill Johnson concerning the county’s 2004 budget.

The sheriff is concerned that there is not enough money in the budget to pay for raises for department employees and dues for the Alabama Sheriff’s Association.

Beeker has told the sheriff on both occasions that the county just does not have the money. He also said the county is not required to pay the association fees.

The sheriff indicated that there were two budgets for his office, one that gave him $700 for association fees, and another that allotted $2,500. The copy of the county budget provided Tuesday from the commission office shows that $700 was allotted for the association fees.

“In all of our budgetary talks – with every department – we said from the start we don’t have any extra money,” Beeker said. “Everyone has got to keep the budget they had the year before.” Some departments were combined, he said. “The probate judge got an extra employee because her responsibilities increased, but basically we had no money to increase anywhere.”

Total expenses for Greene County’s 2004 budget are $2,532,733.00. Estimated revenue is expected to be close to that level. The sheriff’s department received $446,340, and the jail received $315,670.

Personnel had to be added for the new jail, Beeker said.

Could the sheriff adjust line items in his department budget? “We don’t micro-manage,” the chairman said. “If he can do this or do that, none of us care. It just can’t go over this line.

“His budget has increased tremendously. Even before the new (jail) site was ever found, his budget has been steadily climbing.”

Beeker asked Isaac in Monday’s meeting if he could help to find a way to pay for the association fees. Isaac said he doesn’t believe his department should have to generate revenue.

The revenue from the county racing commission (pre-bingo) is down $100,000, the chairman said. The county general fund does not receive anything directly from the bingo proceeds.

Beeker, an opponent of the bingo gaming, said the county would not be in such bad shape if it had not had to absorb the $25,000 cost of the special election on bingo.

Commissioner Bill Johnson asked for a work session to discuss the problems with the sheriff’s budget. That session will be held 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Greene County Courthouse.

“It’s a real serious problem,” Johnson said, “because fiscal responsibility is our responsibility. This is not something that happened with one issue. This is something that has been going on and sliding down hill.”

The issue, Johnson said, was the county has a budget it can’t pay for. Johnson and Commissioner Donald Means voted against the 2004 budget.

“When the budget was presented, it was presented about $70,000 in the red,” he said. “The statement was made by the chairman that we will be able to cut here and here and bring it back in line. That’s not good.”

Beeker said county officials had to make an educated guess on what revenue totals would be. There is no fluff, no extra spending in the budget. “That’s why we had to be so tough in negotiating our budget. We don’t have the money.”

Beeker has proposed a change to a new county phone system in which citizens would receive lower rates and the county would also receive a fee. Johnson said in Monday’s commission meeting that the county shouldn’t make money off its citizens.

“How can you reconcile Mr. Johnson’s actions (Monday) with his actions several years ago when he led the way in passing the largest ad valorem tax increase in history?” Beeker said. “That’s my question to the public. The man is disingenuous.

“We’re not taking anything from them (with the proposed phone service); we’re saving them money. I’m looking for everything I can to have a revenue source.

“I think Mr. Johnson wants to see this commission not do well because of his personal reasons,” Beeker said.

Johnson said, “We’re going to sit down and talk (Tuesday) and see if we can ‘t come to some happy medium to make some hard decisions. I’m going to get in the meeting and say what is right and what should be done.”

Beeker said he feels the Tuesday work session will be a big farce. It will just be a chance for Johnson to blow off steam, he said.

“There’s an agenda by two commissioners,” the chairman said, “and they don’t deviate from that agenda. The agenda is to vote against any direction that we are headed. If we would be all working together, we would be so much farther down the road.

“We’re determined that we are going to run this (budget) just as tight, just as efficient, just as well as we can, treat everybody the same.”