Twenty-five hours into 2019-20 budgetary discussions, the Franklin County Fiscal Court seems as though it may be inching toward a compromise.
After having the first reading of the proposed budget at a previous meeting earlier this month, elected county officials made significant amendments Thursday evening that has forced the redrafting of a new budget and a special meeting planned for Tuesday.
When talks began in April, the court was divided over the use of reserve money to balance the county’s budget. Rookie Magistrates Sherry Sebastian (District 1) and Michael Mueller (District 3) were particularly vocal with their concerns.
“We’re talking about passing a budget of $1.7 million in the hole,” Mueller stated. “I can’t with a clear conscience pass things along knowing long term the detriment that it could cause the county.”
While he claimed he still wasn’t comfortable approving the budget due to the number of changes, Mueller said he would “sleep on it.”
Though a revised budget is not set in stone, county leaders Thursday night discussed slashing $10,000 for electronic meeting equipment; $18,000 for fire department heaters; and $25,000 for Lakeview Park improvements. The amended budget would also include a 2% pay raise for all county employees at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
But, Judge-Executive Huston Wells warned, the court would have to come to an agreement by next week in order to have a budget in place before the fiscal year begins July 1. He added there could be repercussions if the first reading isn’t held next week due to the state Department of Local Government’s June 15 deadline to have first-read budgets submitted. Wells even slung around the words “deep trouble” and “government shutdown” to get the magistrates’ attention.
We agree with Mueller and Sebastian. Annually tapping the reserves is not a long-term solution to balancing the budget, however, with the time constraints currently placed on the county, there may not be any other feasible option this year. Local leaders must find a way for the county to tighten its metaphorical fiscal belt or there will be no funds for a rainy day.