Jefferson County Judge Dutch King said Thursday that the county is facing stern challenges next year because of a lack of revenue.
Speaking to elected officials and county department heads, King said, “Money is extremely tight. It’s tighter than it’s ever been before.
“At one time Jefferson County had a lot of money,” King said. “It does no good to point fingers and try to place blame because that won’t help us one bit. We’ve got to move forward.”
As the county begins the 2014 budget process, King said the only thing the county can do now is to take the budgets for each county office and department from this year, allocate that same amount next year and adjust those budgets if additional funds become available.
“The hole we dug didn’t happen overnight but by working hard together, we can overcome the problem,” King said. “We may not turn the corner during my time here, or even your time here, but together we can lay the foundation and create something to build on.”
While King described working for the county as a “good job,” he said he realized that county employees have not received a pay raise in several years, and the current financial state makes that impossible in the near future.
“We can give them (the employees) something extra, like additional holidays, and we are going to continue to do that,” King said. “We want to make sure all our employees have a job and to do that, we’ve got to cut corners.”
To do that, King suggested eliminating out-of-state travel and requiring employees who must travel in-state for conferences and training travel back and forth, rather than staying overnight.
“When a person quits, or retires or finds another job, we need to close ranks and don’t fill that position,” King said. “I can’t tell you not to hire, but maybe by giving someone else some additional responsibility, it can make a difference.”
Finance Committee Chairman Herman Ginger echoed King’s comments, saying “What we’re facing is a trap we put ourselves in.
“For years we had a surplus and we could cover you because we had the money to do that,” Ginger said. “We’ve gone to the well so many times there’s nothing left. There is no reserve left.”
To illustrate that, Ginger said the county recently replaced the chiller that ran the air conditioning at the courthouse.
“We had to borrow the money to do that,” Ginger said. “Look at your expenses and if it’s not absolutely necessary, don’t do it.
“We’re going to give you the same budget as last year because we don’t have any more,” he said.
Justice of the Peace Ted Harden said a part of the problem is legislation that provides that businesses and industry that do business in the county can have the money they pay for sales taxes given back to them through rebates.
“It’s cost us $800,000 so far,” Harden said. “We don’t even know what the criteria is or who is getting the rebates and it’s costing us about $1 million a year. We could do a lot with a million dollars.”
“We’ve got to all be on the same page and move forward,” King said. “Where will we be five years from now? Where will we be next year?”
He said that the county’s population has decreased and that has resulted in the tax base eroding.
“We don’t have the people we used to have, and if people keep leaving, that’s going to continue,” King said. “We’re all in the same boat and we’ve got to move forward as best we can.”