County okays spending plan

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Barry County will operate under a $3.8 million budget for 2006, which includes funding for a much needed jail expansion project and an across-the-board $600 salary increase for full-time employees.

The budget, which was approved by the Barry County Commission following a budget hearing on Monday, totals $3,839,551. That sum is about $120,000 less than was requested by county officeholders.

According to Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren, the amount trimmed from the budget requests was salary related. Officeholders had asked for more than a $600 raise for their employees.

"This wasn't one of the easiest budgets we've ever prepared," said Warren. "We had to look at the priorities of the county, and I think we've addressed them."

Warren said these priorities were an overcrowded jail and an overworked prosecutor's office.

"Our (judicial) system is pretty well loaded," said Warren.

For the third year in a row, the county has set aside $200,000 for capital projects. Of that total, $150,000 will go toward the county jail expansion project and $25,000 will be used to make the new sheriff's office ADA compliant.

Last week, Warren announced that the county had purchased the former Hutchens Construction property located west of the jail for $175,000. It is the commission's intention to move the sheriff's administrative offices into the Hutchens building.

The jail construction project will now focus exclusively on adding 32 more beds to the existing building and doubling prisoner capacity. The initial plan called for constructing administrative offices as well as adding pods onto the jail. The property purchase eliminates that need.

"Myself, the chief deputy, two secretary and investigators will move to the new office space," said Sheriff Mick Eppelry. "My road officers will remain over at the jail but will be able to move closer to dispatch. I think this should make our whole process better."

To date, the county has put aside $350,000 for the jail expansion project. With the additional $175,000 in this year's budget, the county should be able to complete the project in 2006.

Once the need for more jail space is addressed, Warren said the county will begin looking for ways to increase funding for public safety and other services.

"We think the county will continue to grow," said Warren. "I would think we could take some of the money we have been putting in capital projects and use it for some of these services," said Warren. "Our reserves also need to be increased some."

Warren praised county officeholders for their willingness to cooperate and support the Commission's budget decisions.

"Our officeholders should be commended," said Warren. "They do the best they can with what they have to work with, and we appreciate them. They have real good attitudes. What's in their budget, they need."

In his 2006 budget message, Barry County Clerk Gary Youngblood said the Commission was estimating its 2006 revenue at $3,630,704. With $240,685 carried over from 2005, the county has $3,871,389 to spend in the coming year.

The county ended 2005 with cash of $240,685, which will carried over to this year's budget.

Youngblood, who serves as the county's budget officer, provided the following break-down of estimated revenues for 2006: $1,760,938, sales tax; $1,036,217, intergovernmental revenues; $629,349, charges for services; $12,000, interest; and $192,200, other revenues.

Commissioners are counting on their half-cent sales tax to bring in 4.5 percent more than it did in 2005. The increase should be fueled by the new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Cassville and Lowe's in Monett.

This year's budget reflects a 13 percent increase over last year's budget of $3.2 million. A chart comparing budget figures for 2005 and 2006 along with a breakdown of proposed spending by office and department accompanies this article.

Warren also noted during the budget hearing that county officeholders voted to freeze their salary levels for at least the next four years during the Salary Commission held in December.

"Again our officeholders should be commended, Warren said.

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