Morgan County Council members aren’t agreeing on a budget they must have passed before the end of the year. In an effort to come to a consensus, the council scheduled a work meeting to discuss the budget on Monday, Dec. 14, prior to their next Dec. 15 meeting.
“We have been a little out of control on our spending,” Councilman Ned Mecham said.
In 2011, the county had a $5 million general fund budget. In 2014, that number was $5.6 million. The number jumped up to $5.93 million this year, an increase Mecham says is alarming.
“That is $900,000 more than in 2011 and $325,000 more than last year,” he said. “Unless there is going to be a lot of cutting, I am not in support.”
Councilwoman Tina Cannon, an accountant by trade, said the council has already spent about 30 hours hashing out the budget. “About eight hours in, I decided I was going to sit back and watch because this is never how I have done a budget before,” she said. “But I am new and have stepped on enough toes. Why rock the boat? I understand how these numbers got reached, but it is government and it doesn’t make sense.”
Councilman Robert Kilmer also had misgivings.
“We need to step back and re-think this budget,” Kilmer said, noting the $300,000 the county plans to pull out of the rainy-day fund to make up the difference between revenue and expenses. “I want to make sure I know exactly where that $300,000 will be spent, and I am not sure that I do. I am not sure any one of us has a complete understanding of what is in this budget and what we are spending. We still have what I consider are major questions. We are doing the county an injustice not taking a look at it again.”
Cannon said some of the $300,000 was planned to give raises to employees and fund the increasing costs of benefits.
“To me, that is a lot of money. That is one whole department in some cases,” Cannon said.
Kilmer is also concerned about funds set aside for hiring a council secretary.
“We need to find out what the issues are why we don’t have 100 percent support (for this position),” he said. “This position works directly with the council. We need to agree it is beneficial to the county and the council or we are setting them up for failure.”
The new 2016 budget features $90,000 that will be used as part of a matching grant to replace the county airport runway.
Funds for full-time salary and benefits for an economic development director have been included in the budget while the county has only authorized contract and hourly rates for such a position so far.
“If it proves beneficial to the county, we can use it,” Kilmer said. “But we have not granted permission to hire at this time.”
Chairman Logan Wilde also noted that the 2016 budget addressed roads after Morgan County residents failed to pass Proposition 1 to help fund road maintenance.
The council hadn’t originally planned a Dec. 14 budget work meeting.
“If we open (the 2016 budget) up, it is going to be ugly, and maybe that is what we need it to be,” Cannon said. “I am more than happy to do it. But you are going to have to stand with me when you make people unhappy. Most will be employees going into Christmas.”
Councilman Daryl Ballantyne said the council should start focusing on the budget in April rather than the usual October.
Councilman John Barber agreed, saying the council needs to “look at every line item” in a process that will take six months.
“In this (budget) process, seldom are we all going to agree. That is just the way it is,” Kilmer said. “In the budget process, there is a lot of give and take. I would like to get to the point that we can at least come to a consensus so we can all support the budget.”