With no public comment in three meetings and little discussion among officials until the final hearing, the Dawson County commission voted 3-1 on Sept. 16 to approve the county’s budget for 2011.
The $21.8 million spending plan calls for a continuation of the county’s hiring freeze and does not include cost-of-living increases for county workers.
The budget does allow for the hiring of one full-time and three part-time employees for the new courthouse that is expected to be completed by the end of next year.
Six new sheriff’s patrol cars, three pumper trucks for the fire department and two mowers for public works were the only additional expenses listed for the coming year.
Commissioner Gary Pichon made the motion to approve the budget, which is a decrease of about 8.8 percent from 2010.
Following the vote, Pichon said he was proud of the county staff for making the necessary cuts to keep the budget at an operational level.
“We asked them to cut and they did what they had to,” he said.
Commissioner Mike Connor voted against the measure after outlining several points he called “food for thought.”
Connor said it has always bothered him that the commissioners were not part of the budget process until the time came for a vote.
Under the county’s enabling act, the chairman of the commission, Mike Berg, presents the budget to the panel after meeting with the county’s constitutional officers and staff to determine the funds needed to operate throughout the year.
“As it stands right now, there is only one man that establishes the priorities,” Connor said. “When we get the document in our hands, it’s at the end of the process.”
Connor also questioned several county positions.
“There are a total of at least four positions that could be eliminated that could save a significant amount of money that could go into the reserve fund,” he said.
The proposed budget will keep about $3.3 million, or about 15 percent of the total budget, in the county’s reserve fund balance.
Pichon said he understands Connors concerns, though he is convinced county staff has gone above and beyond to pinch pennies.
“The county manager has combined positions and made cuts where he could to get us to this budget,” Pichon said.
“If we need to make additional cuts, we will do it. But the way I see it, eliminating jobs is one of our last resorts.”
County landowners will not see a property tax increase to fund the budget. The board voted in August to keep the county's portion of the millage rate at 8.138 percent.
With the school system's portion of the millage at 13.646, the county's millage rate is 22.184 mills, the same as the past six years.