MADISON — The Boone County Budget Committee held a public meeting on Monday to discuss the county budget and hear ideas from both the public and elected seats regarding a crisis that came to light in the early months of 2019.
At the table for the forum was Prosecuting Attorney Keith Randolph, Sheriff Randall White, his wife and County Administrator Pam White, Commissioner Brett Kuhn, Assessor Scotty Cook, Boone County Circuit Clerk Sue Ann Zickefoose, Parks and Recreation Director Russell Thomas, Maintenance Director Kerry Dickens and Chad Hess from the Boone County Sheriff's Office, who was representing the deputies within the county.
Outside agencies like parks and recreation and Economic Development could be on the chapping block as early as Oct. 1, but would have to come to a vote in a commission regular session.
A debate took place at a commission meeting on July 30 regarding the transfer of $156,875.82 within economic development. The debate hinged on whether or not the funds were county funds, which Randolph publicly stated were by law and the request was tabled after a lengthy discussion.
Thomas noted that Water Ways grossed over $200,000 in July before related expenses for the water park but it is worthy of noting that the park is shut down for at least seven months out of the year.
While still not adopting a budget for 2019-20, Boone County faces a $2.5 million budget shortcoming.
With a current budget standing at $7.2 million and a projected revenue stream of $4.7 on the table, the Boone County Commission face important decisions that will affect the county's immediate fiscal landscape.
Commission President Eddie Hendricks was not in attendance but Commissioner Brett Kuhn and Craig Bratcher were present with Bratcher was not at the table. Kuhn took something positive from the meeting to build on.
"This was a great step forward," Kuhn said. "We had concerned citizens here who had valid things to say and it made the officials feel free to talk openly and discuss things. We got a lot of solid ideas to work on moving forward."
Bratcher echoed Kuhn's thoughts and left the meeting feeling better than when he arrived two hours earlier.
"The positive I take away from this is that at least people are willing to sit down at a table and negotiate and discuss what we are dealing with and do it in a civil manner," he said. "Even in discussing our outside agencies, we were able to discuss the numbers."
After the meeting, which was moderated by Randolph, officials felt that a public meeting was necessary before any vote by commissioners regarding cuts in personnel and agencies as a whole. A 20 percent cut is on the table as early as Sept. 1 after an 18 percent cut was executed two months ago.
"Having people here to ask questions is critical," added Randolph. "Its critical for oversight of the county and I can do research but I don't have all of the answers. We need to listen and we need to keep an open mind. We have to work through this together."
During the forum, Randolph addressed the urgency of the 20 percent cut and how soon it can be implemented to affect each county office.
"This is going to happen and it is going to happen very soon," he said. "It was proposed for Sept. 1 but I don't know if commissioners can tell you right now because they're not in a meeting but I know the county administrator that it be done on Sept. 1."
Randolph expressed that another 5 percent could be implemented in October.
The committee discussed the possibility of raising health insurance premiums for county employees, which as was noted by committee members is why many employees can afford to work at a meager pay rate and keeps them from looking elsewhere for employment.
The committee discussed liquidating county property and unused equipment while raising lease agreements for rental properties and installing separate electricity meters on county property so that individual agencies would be responsible for their own use.
The future of Lick Creek Park and Racine Park were under the microscope as Commissioner Brett Kuhn suggested that Boone County Schools should be asked about contributing to Lick Creek Park in some capacity because of WVSSAC softball games being hosted on the field.
While Thomas noted that his employees with Parks and Recreation spend a lot of time at Lick Creek cleaning up after non-WVSSAC sanctioned softball league events, one attendee noted publicly that the for-profit league representatives should be cleaning up after tournaments instead of relying on county dollars to pay for employees to be deployed to the athletic fields.
It was determined that retiring employees, like several on the maintenance crew would not be replaced.
"They're going to take on a lot more responsibility and take a pay cut," added Pam White.
Dickens spoke about excess within county offices.
"We have 12 printers in one office with lots of ink and lots of maintenance," he said. "We could go to three or four."
In May, The Coal Valley News reported on overtime paid within the Boone County Parks and Recreation department.
Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the CVN learned that from July 2015 to July 2016, Parks and Recreation paid out $37,310.15 in overtime. From July 2016 through June 2017, they paid $25,568.15 and in 2017 through June 2018 they paid $24,288.13 in overtime.
The department operates on a current budget of $356,627.00.
In March, the CVN reported that the partially grant-funded recycling department has lost between $78,000 and $86,000 annually between fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Officials confirmed that there was no hard look at vendors who do regular work for the county or an examination of service contracts that may be seen as excessive.
The Boone County Commission will meet again on Aug. 20 at 3:30 p.m. in commission chambers on the third floor of the Boone County Courthouse Annex Building.
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-307-2402.