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Published: Wednesday, 11/23/2005

Monroe County's 2006 budget trims $1.9M, hits reserves

MONROE - Monroe County officials, facing lost revenues and rising expenses, last night passed a recommended 2006 budget that includes about $1.9 million in department cuts and another $2.1 million taken from reserve funds.

The moves, which members of the county commissioners' finance committee called painful, were necessary to deal with an anticipated $4 million deficit in next year's $48 million budget.

"I think it worked out good," committee Chairman Thomas Mell said.

The committee's recommendations will be considered by the full board of commissioners at a Dec. 6 meeting and public hearing.

"The numbers we have are still preliminary; there are a lot of adjustments we need to make," County Administrator Charles Londo said. He said there would be no layoffs as a result of the new budget.

Budget recommendations for 17 departments were approved. The Probate and Family Court budget vote was tabled until Dec. 6, as were votes on the prosecutor's budget and one section of the sheriff's budget.

County Prosecutor William Paul Nichols argued that requested budget cuts would require him to not fill his department's vital position of warrant secretary upon retirement.

He said department employees have volunteered to use up accumulated sick time and that he will have leftover, already budgeted funds for unused disability and family leave that would offset most of the $44,000 in salary and benefits for the secretary position.

Jerry Oley, chairman of the commissioners, and Mr. Londo said they were uncomfortable with county employees using sick days as leave time.

"It's sending out a new message. People will use sick time for leave rather than what it was intended for," Mr. Londo said.

In the recently completed budget hearings, most of the contentious debate focused on the sheriff's department, which county officials say accounts for 44 percent of their budget. The department was asked to cut $1.6 million from its $19 million budget. Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield, who argued that the department already was too lean, countered with cuts totaling $526,000, which were approved last night by the finance committee.

Tabled was the recommendation to eliminate the position of jail nurse. Mr. Londo said he and the sheriff were working on an idea that would save more money, and that the proposal will be presented at the Dec. 6 meeting.

Sheriff Crutchfield said he was OK with the overall budget recommendation.

"It's something we negotiated with the county in good faith, and I support this," he said.

Commissioners, still faced with more than $2 million in cuts, said they did not want to ask the departments to trim more from their budgets. So they approved, with little discussion, Mr. Londo's suggestion of taking $1 million out of the $3 million budget stabilization fund and another $1 million out of a compensation fund, which depletes that reserve. The county still has about $8.1 million in its general reserve fund.

Meanwhile, the committee will send to the board a new, more flexible hiring freeze proposal that will replace a similar freeze passed in April.

Under the new resolution, department heads losing employees to retirement will be allowed to petition the commissioners to replace the employees.

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