Hamilton County’s nine commissioners are asking for $100,000 each in taxpayer-funded discretionary money in next year’s budget even as the county’s schools and health department face millions in cuts.
Chairman Larry Henry said the $900,000 the commission receives every year is essential.
“We’ve always included it,” he said. “It helps our districts and ... 95 percent goes toward our schools. That’s what it’s there for.”
Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith said that commissioners should forgo the funds this year and let them go directly to schools, which face $14 million in budget cuts. The commission has a 7-2 Republican majority.
“The economy is so tight right now that those funds would be better spent on buying textbooks for children,” Smith said.
Commissioner Warren Mackey, one of the commission’s two Democrats, said he “absolutely” wants discretionary money in the budget.
Other said the same, though Commissioner Fred Skillern said the amount should be reduced by the same percentage as other budgets.
Skillern said the money is needed to ensure all nine districts receive equal funding.
“Before you had discretionary money, certain districts got more money than others,” he said.
Commissioner Tim Boyd said the money allows commissioners to make a difference in their districts.
“Personally, I like the ability to impact people in my community to help them with projects that’ll be funded,” Boyd said.
Commissioner Chester Bankston said the money is used for things the commission ordinarily would not fund. He said he would be able to use it to help parts of his district that are affected by budget cutbacks elsewhere.
Commissioner Mitch McClure said he put the discretionary money to good use.
“I’ve used them to buy technology and supplement technology [for schools],” McClure said. “I think that’s a worthwhile thing. I think we should have something.”
Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...