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September 10, 2013

County commissioners delay vote on budget

DUNCAN — The Board of Stephens County Commissioners postponed a vote on a new county budget Monday, with Chairman Dee Bowen saying he wants hard figures on what proposed employee raises will cost.

Meanwhile, Todd Churchman — a member of the Stephens County Excise-Equalization Board — said Monday he still has concerns about a budget request by Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney. The Excise Board has final say on the county budget.

Churchman also refuted claims the boards had violated budget-making laws and procedures heading into their joint meeting on the budget Aug. 28, which ended without final action on a spending plan.

Doug Friesen, an attorney McKinney’s office hired, said he was prepared to file court actions over the alleged violations unless the boards worked with McKinney on his budget request.

Churchman, a former county commissioner who has clashed with McKinney on past budget matters, said he checked into the allegations with Mark Patten, an accountant who helps the county prepare its budget.

“All of that (the allegations) was just false information,” Churchman said. “I don’t know where that lawyer got it, whether it was from Wayne or what. That was false information. We haven’t broken any procedures.”

Bowen, when asked if the delay on the budget vote had anything to do with matters concerning the sheriff, did not say yes or no. He just referred to his previously stated desire to have more information about the proposed raises.

Regardless, it could be late September before the county has a 2013-14 budget on the books.

County commissioners could vote on a budget recommendation during their meeting next Monday. But the Excise Board must vote to approve it, and Churchman said because of timing issues, a vote might not occur until at least Sept. 25.

The previous budget officially expired June 30, but it is common practice for county officials to wait until late August to approve a new plan. Officials say it takes several weeks after June 30 to get up-to-date information on tax revenues.

During the lag time, spending levels continue from the previous budget.

The budget proposal on the table would give most county employees pay raises for the second consecutive year. Most got 5-percent salary increases in the last budget.

The plan would give 10-percent raises to first-deputy employees in county offices, with others getting 5-percent increases.

McKinney did not seek raises for his office, saying he had more pressing priorities. They included money from the county’s general fund — essentially its primary checking account — to hire three new deputies to enhance security at the Stephens County Courthouse.

Bowen said he is not opposed to raises but wants more information on costs and whether it is equitable to simply give raises based on flat, across-the-board percentages.

It appears County Fairground employees would not get raises under the plan and Bowen was not sure about some others. Giving raises to some employees but not all could create friction, he said.

Commissioner Darrell Sparks agreed.

“I just don’t see how we can give some people raises and some not raises,” he said.

Bowen said his biggest concern is the bottom line.

“We’ve just got to make sure we have enough money to do that,” he said.

Churchman said he still has concerns about whether the county can afford to give a significant increase in general fund money to McKinney’s office.

McKinney requested about $889,000 from the general fund, up from about $611,000 he eventually got in the last budget. He said $889,000 was the bare minimum he needed to provide adequate protection for the public, his officers and the courthouse.

There appeared to be at least some loose consensus during the Aug. 28 meeting for giving McKinney’s office about $731,000. McKinney said he could live with that and it would be enough to hire three deputies for security purposes at the courthouse.

Churchman said, as he did numerous times last year during funding disagreements with McKinney, that his concerns have nothing to do with politics or personal issues.

“It’s a simple matter of economics and what we can afford, and what they’re (the sheriff’s office) asking for is cutting it too close as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Churchman has said the sheriff has two cash funds, with combined proceeds at times reaching about $2 million, that he can use to grow his office.

McKinney said he already uses those accounts to help pay for personnel and capital expenses, including gasoline, that should be funded by the county.

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