Houston County commissioners closer to nailing down budget

Houston County commissioners closer to nailing down budget
Houston County leaders are ironing out the details of this upcoming fiscal budget.

HOUSTON COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - Houston County leaders are ironing out the details of this upcoming fiscal budget.

Wednesday afternoon, they held a work session along with county department heads and the chief administrative officer.

The budget is broken into two areas: revenue and expenditures. The expenses this year are estimated to be roughly $48 million. The revenue is forecast to be in the $46 million range with an overall budget deficit of $2 million.

At the end of this fiscal year, the county is expected to have roughly $6.6 million in the fund balance. By the end of the 2020 fiscal year, $4.3 million is projected for the fund balance.

During the work session, Houston County Chief Administrative Officer Peter Covert presented preliminary numbers crunched on the budget.

He noted one thing commissioners can get excited about is a bump in Simplified Sellers Use Tax. The county is forecast to get $1 million. The money is from citizens making online purchases.

Covert also noted the county and Southeast Health have formalized an agreement on inmate health care. The hospital started charging the county for care. The county will now pay Medicare rates. The projected costs are $88,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.

He also walked commissioners through what department heads requested versus what is proposed based on the budget.

There was some concern about potential figures for law enforcement. Although salary increases were requested and preliminarily included for the next budget, all of the manpower requests were not.

The Houston County Sheriff’s Office requested one deputy sergeant and 14 additional deputies. The proposed budget only included four deputies: two SROs and two deputies for the courthouse. The sheriff’s office also requested 10 Tahoes, but five were included in the proposed budget.

During the work session, both Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza and Maj. Bill Rafferty expressed concerns.

“Every deputy we have is assigned to a unit. I’m already short in court as it is,” said Rafferty. “We’re constantly having to pull off the road, CID, or VICE to sit in court.”

Jail manpower was also a pressing concern. The sheriff’s office requested eight additional correction deputies. In the proposed budget there are none added.

According to Rafferty, 12 personnel run the jail daily. He says they operate at roughly one correction deputy for every 35.75 inmates. He says the Department of Justice recommends one correction officer for every 10.25 inmates.

“We’re not going to just turn people out because the jail is overcrowded, but we’re putting correction deputies’ lives in danger when they’re going into a cell block dealing with 20, 30, 40 inmates,” said Rafferty.

Commissioners agreed to discuss ways to switch around numbers and positions to better accommodate their needs before a final vote.

“We’ve got to figure that out, so that we can do what you need and can do what the jail needs, and can address our building problems and do the things we need to do to address the needs of the county,” said Houston County Commission Chair Mark Culver.

Covert says even though the county is working with a limited budget with a lengthy to-do list, he feels confident the numbers will pan out and the county leaders will make appropriate shifts.

“I am comfortable that we have good stewards of the citizens money sitting at the table. I feel confident they will provide the highest level of service they can to the citizens and do it in a fiscally responsible way,” said Covert.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the final budget at their last September meeting.

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