The Washington County Commission voted Thursday evening to approve a budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year after adopting a number of amendments that reduced it by more than $800,000.
The motion to approve the budget was supported by 14 votes from the commission.
Included in the approved amendments to the budget, which totaled $824,040, not including additional cuts from both the Washington County Highway Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office presented during Thursday’s special called meeting, are many funding cuts to projects and contracts that Mayor Dan Eldridge said were already approved, as well as the elimination of Jeff Keeling’s position as the county communication director.
The amendments were presented by Commissioner Mark Ferguson.
Before the vote, Eldridge — who stepped down as chairman of the County Commission at the beginning of the meeting, citing that his duties as mayor were being compromised by also serving as chair — took some time to go through Ferguson’s amendments and explain each proposed cut to the commission.
While he touched upon many of the cuts, Eldridge spent some time explaining the necessity of Keeling’s position, which drew some opposition from Ferguson.
Last month, the county’s budget committee approved a balanced budget, which showed several cuts to submitted departmental budgets and nonprofit agency contributions but reflected a 3 percent pay raise for county employees and no property tax increase. The same budget was approved by the budget committee two weeks prior when it was recommended to be published and presented at the public hearing.
In addition to hearing some budget reductions presented by both Sheriff Ed Graybeal and Highway Department superintendent John Deakins, the commission also heard a budget submission from Director of School Ron Dykes.
Dykes told the commission that the county Board of Education was being asked to cover this year’s shortfall, which he said was about $1.6 million. He wanted assurance from the commission that if they were to dip into their fund balance to cover this year’s costs, the commission would offer a guarantee to cover those reoccurring costs in the future.
If he were to be requested to amend the current budget, Dykes said that would have to be done through the school board.
After discussion, the commission voted to leave the current school budget, as the motion was supported by 17 votes.
Other amendments presented by Commissioner Lee Chase included those for special appropriations, including those for several area fire departments and nonprofit organizations.
Before a budget is finalized, the commission voted to set the special appropriations amendments aside in order to obtain more data for the next meeting.
In other business, the commission was to vote on the property tax rate.