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Local News

August 28, 2013

County budget on table today

DUNCAN — County officials plan to hear money requests from county officers and department heads today and could decide how millions of taxpayer dollars are to be doled out in a new annual budget.

Some offices are requesting the same or similar amounts as those approved last year, although some are up several thousand dollars. The county clerk office’s request is down about $21,000 from last year.

Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney is seeking about $889,000 from the county general fund, which is similar to a primary checking account. The money would help pay for three additional deputies who would provide enhanced security at the Stephens County Courthouse.

McKinney’s office was the only one cut — at least significantly — last year, although he received some supplemental funds in March.

The Board of Stephens County Commissioners is expected to make spending recommendations to the Stephens County Excise-Equalization Board, which has final say on the budget. But they plan to meet together today and a spending plan could be approved.

Money requests from county offices and departments have already been made in writing.

Spending from the county’s general fund was about $7.7 million for the 12 months that ended on June 30.

For about the first two months of this 2013-14 county budget year — July and most of this month — most spending was simply continued from last year’s levels. The delay in setting the new budget allows officials to use up-to-date figures.

Last year, county officials approved the precise budget requests sought by almost all offices and departments.

But commissioners and the excise board decided to not only reject McKinney’s request of about $784,000, but cut his previous general fund budget by about $200,000. He received about $350,000.

Todd Churchman, who was chairman of the county commissioners last year, said then that McKinney had cash accounts in excess of $2 million that could be used to fund growth and expansion of his office.

Churchman, after losing his re-election bid in November 2012, was appointed by commissioners to the excise board.

McKinney said he uses the accounts, which accrue money from various fees and other sources, to pay for some salaries, fuel and equipment expenses, among other things.

He said Monday that this year’s request is more than justified in his goal to help ensure the safety of his own officers and provide public safety for all rural areas of the county, which includes about 22,000 people.

He said personnel is a key component of doing that, and most salaries — plus the 30 percent more in additional money it takes to pay for benefits — should be a county expense.

“I have used non-recurring funds to get the job done,” he said. About $1.4 million from the other funds was used to augment his budget, he said.

“We are not trying to build an empire, we are trying to protect the public,” he said. “State law requires that you supply an adequate budget. And when you have a constitutional office, you must have an appropriate and adequate budget to do the job.”

Other offices seeking increases this year include that of County Treasurer Janice Graham. That office got about $205,000 last year and is seeking about $213,000 this year.

Graham said the additional money would be used to provide 5-percent salary increases for her employees.

The court clerk’s office is seeking about $222,000, up about $10,000 over last year.

The county commissioners want to switch their primary budget-funding source from various accounts to the county general fund.

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