County committees approve 2013 budget

With little discussion, committees of the Jefferson County Quorum Court approved a 2013 budget of just over $12.72 million Tuesday night, but the approval came with a warning from Dr. Herman Ginger, who has been chairman of the court’s Finance Committee.

“I recommend you look at your budgets monthly,” Ginger said to elected officials from most departments who attended the budget hearings. “The well is dry. The day is past when we’ve had more money than we can spend and we’re not going to be happy campers if you come back to us in February and ask for more money.

“That’s why you’re paid the big bucks,” Ginger said. “We’re going to have less money so be careful how you spend it.”

Ginger was referring to projections by County Treasurer Elizabeth Rinchuso that indicated county revenue in 2013 could be as much as $2 million less than 2012 revenue.

Revenue was projected at $28.2 million for 2012 while the 2013 projected revenue is $26.1 million.

Before Ginger spoke, Dr. Conley Byrd talked about the supplemental appropriations that were made this year, saying that some of those may not have been necessary.

“We’ve passed a budget we think is like last year’s but it is going to be incumbent on us to hold supplemental appropriations down,” Byrd said.

Specifically, the 2013 County General Budget is $9,186,008-27, 1.31 percent more than last year, while the budget for the County Road Department is $3,534,504, or 0.39 percent above last year.

Those increases were the result of hikes in retirement benefit contributions and other fringe benefits.

Justice of the Peace Ted Harden, chairman of the Judicial Committee, said the proposed budgets for courts and other departments that fall under his committee “all met the guidelines set by the Finance Committee,” which was to keep the 2013 budget as close to the 2012 budget as possible, with no increases in either salaries or maintenance and operation.

Harden also said that Jefferson County Judge Kim Bridgforth, who had earlier asked to be present when the budget for her office was discussed, rescinded that request and would not be at the Tuesday meeting.

This year, a new budget format was put into place at the urging of the Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit, and many of the categories that had been used in past years were eliminated or changed.

A consequence of the new format was that unlike previous years, the members of the county’s legislative body had no historical data to compare the 2013 budget to, specifically the numbers from 2012.

Justice of the Peace Mandy Alford complained that the 2013 budgets for many county departments contained large sums of money lumped into the miscellaneous category, but Ginger explained that some of those funds didn’t have a line item category attached to them because of the new budget format.

“The County Clerk has the ability to create line items, so if you need a special line item, they can create it,” Ginger said.

While the regular monthly meeting of the Quorum Court will be held next Monday, the justices of the peace will have to reconvene the following Monday, Dec. 17, to pass the 2013 budget.

On Tuesday, the Quorum Court also welcomed back Justice of the Peace Vannette Johnson, who had been absent for several months after being involved in an automobile accident. Johnson had been chairman of the Finance Committee and was replaced by Ginger after Johnson was injured.

Justices of the Peace Paul Jones, Alfred Carroll and Doug Brown were absent Tuesday night.