Budget woes for Hale County

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 13, 2005

After a long period of struggling to keep the books straight and ledgers balanced in Hale County, a new fiscal year and a new county administrator sees the county’s numbers finally beginning to clear up. Too bad the new numbers might not be what the County Commission was hoping to see.

County administrator Tricia Galbreath warned the Commission during their monthly meeting Tuesday that cuts would likely have to be made in the coming year’s budget before it could be approved.

“There may have to be cuts back into the budget,” Galbreath said, “especially from the general fund.”

Email newsletter signup

Exactly what services will feel the sting of those potential cuts is still far from being decided, however. Before the Commission can decide on the coming year’s budget, they need to have this year’s budget to work from, and with the confusion arising from the county’s troubled bookkeeping that budget is not yet available.

“We need to look at that budget to see what we’re spending,” said Commission chair Leland Avery.

Galbreath said that some of the county’s previous expenditures had yet to be reconciled to the general ledger, but that she was working hard on it and the work would be done soon.

“We’re trying to make that balance,” she said. “We should have it completely finished by next week.”

The lack of a budget to work from meant that the Commission could not yet make any decisions about where the trimming of the budget might occur.

“For me to sit here now and say ‘cut this, cut that,’ it’s not right,” said Commissioner Walter Allen. “You have to look at the overall picture before you make any decisions.”

As a result, the Commission chose to take a “recess” until the old budget has been finalized. The Commission is expected to reconvene some time next week.

Avery said that while cuts are certainly a possibility for the new budget, they’re hardly set in stone just yet.

“We adopted last year’s budget as a guide,” Avery said in an interview Tuesday afternoon, “but [Galbreath] is doing a real budget for us now. When we adopt that budget, we may have to make cuts, and we may not.”

In other news from the Hale County Commission meeting:

* The Commission elected to assist Sheriff Larry Johnson in his crackdown on illegal dumping, unanimously voting to spend “three or four thousand dollars,” according to Avery, on a camera monitoring system to catch criminals in the act. The system can be set up near an illegal dump site and will automatically photograph the perpetrators when they arrive. “It has been a problem,” Avery said. “We really want to blow it up. We’re going to correct this problem. The judge can assess them $250 in court costs, and after the fine it’s $403…we catch a few of those, it’ll make a big difference.”

* Avery and Commissioner Yolanda Watkins butted heads over a pair of issues at the start of the Tuesday meeting. The first was a motion by Commissioner Joe Lee Hamilton made the previous meeting to only allow a second, unofficial tape recorder (as opposed to the Commission’s official recorder for the purpose of minutes) on special occasions. Watkins had brought a recorder to the meeting, and Avery asked the rest of the Commission if they wanted to act on the previous motion and remove the recorder. However, the motion was not seconded and Watkins’s recorder stayed. Next, Avery asked the Commission to approve a resolution applying for a “CDBG” road grant. Despite Avery’s assertion that the resolution was a “formality,” Watkins first asked that the resolution be read and then expressed surprise at the roads selected for attention from the grant. “Why were these roads selected?” she asked Avery. “I have roads in my district that are worse off than these.” Avery responded that the grant’s writer had done a survey of the area and found that these were the roads most in need of attention. “When was the grant writer here? Were we notified that he would be here?” Watkins asked. Despite her reservations, Watkins did vote for the measure and the resolution passed unanimously.