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Commissioners kick off long budget process

The Harrison County Board of Commissioners began the 2011 budget process last Wednesday with a special meeting to discuss the riverboat gaming funds budget.
The meeting began at 1 p.m. and didn’t adjourn until almost nine hours later. The board heard from 19 organizations or agencies that receive riverboat gaming funds; each group was allotted 15 minutes to state its case for funding.
Most agencies requested the same amount of funding as a year ago.
Shirley Raymond, executive director of Harrison County Community Services, requested the same funding as past years out of riverboat gaming funds: $400,000. She said the rate of increase of people in need of the service, which is mainly known for its food pantry, has slowed.
‘It really is a positive thing, after the three years of straight downhill,’ she said.
Raymond said the amount of food donations doubled last year, to about 200 tons. A number of local churches pitch in not only food, but also funding.
She said her agency is already cut to the bare bones, and the only thing left to cut would be services or staff. Raymond has seven full-time employees.
Commissioner James Goldman said that since riverboat gaming funds are capped for the county, the amount received never gets any bigger but requests increase each year.
‘We’re going to reach a point where the riverboat is not going to be able to cover all these needs,’ he said.
Goldman said the board will do the best it can to continue to fund the program.
‘We do appreciate what you do,’ he said to Raymond about HCCS. ‘You’re a valuable service to the community.’
Health coordinator Tony Combs presented the health department’s budget, which was the same as last year. Combs asked for $14,000 for mosquito control and another $35,000, which is used for a translator and other services (this does not include the health department’s general fund budget).
Combs said the MCH clinic (maternal and child health) sees the most need for a translator to speak Spanish to the Latino community.
Buffy Fleace, the department’s registrar, asked the commissioners if they have ever considered hiring a translator for the county.
Goldman said they have not.
The board asked Combs if the patients were legal citizens, to which he replied that most of them are, but the department does serve individuals in the county who are here on a work permit.
Commissioner Carl (Buck) Mathes said he wanted to cut the $35,000 budget, since Combs could replenish the money from the tobacco cessation fund.
Combs said it could be done, if that’s what the board wanted.
‘What you’ve got to understand is that Buck speaks for himself,’ Commissioner Terry Miller said.
‘It’s a good place to cut,’ Mathes said. ‘They’ve got a place to get other money. They don’t need it.’
Goldman sided with Miller, saying the department’s budget couldn’t be cut.
The board also asked Combs to include the highway department employees in the special vaccination session with the firefighters and Emergency Medical Services employees.
‘Having them healthy is just as important,’ Goldman said. ‘They’re the ones out there opening the roads for ambulances.’
Combs said that would not be a problem.
Emergency Medical Services director Gary Kleeman requested a total of $215,700, for his department. Last year, the department only requested $78,000, but an ambulance was not purchased for replacement in 2010. The budget in 2009 was just more than $247,000 and $221,000 in 2008.
Kleeman also informed the board that bids for the AEDs purchased by the county for all floors in each county office building came in significantly lower than expected. The cost will be about $41,000 as opposed to the expected nearly $60,000.
‘That shows you’re working for the county,’ Goldman said.
The board also went through its own riverboat gaming fund budget and requested a 1-percent raise in salary and other line items. The commissioners only make suggestions to the county council, which will take a line-by-line look at the budget requests before finalizing the entire county budget.
The council will have budget hearings Aug. 2, 3, 4 and 5 at 4:30 p.m. and Aug. 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 6 p.m. The council will read the budget to the public at its Sept. 13 and Sept. 27 meetings.