published Monday, September 30th, 2013

Jackson County passes budget with $900,000 deficit

Jackson County, Ala., commissioners passed a 2013-14 budget last week with more than a $900,000 deficit, but it will remain a work in progress as officials study ways to realign revenue streams and find more cuts.

"We passed a budget that was unbalanced," County Commissioner Jason Venable said Friday. "None of us felt good about it. But we have enough cash balance to cover the deficit."

That's no solution, though.

Venable said that officials want to try to make changes to allow funds to be moved where they're needed.

The expenditure side of the county's budget reflects better times when revenues were higher, he said. County revenues took a nose dive with the economy.

"We've still got some hurdles to cross. We're going to try to change our revenue streams, and we're going to have to do some trimming," he said. "If you don't have room in your budget to service a debt, I don't feel comfortable borrowing money."

The fiscal year runs Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

The reason the budget was passed with a deficit was to "be honest with the budget" and to establish a real mark to aim for as solutions are sought, County Commission Chairman Matthew Hodges said.

Hodges said earlier estimates placed the county's deficit at $1.2 million, but it was really closer to $1.8 million, and the $900,000 officials found in cuts and fund adjustments up till now still left as much in the red.

Rather than to make dramatic cuts to eliminate the remaining $900,000 deficit and potentially cripple some government services, commissioners decided to pass the budget as it stands and use the next three months to review the books, look at some possible local legislation to realign funding streams and "to make sure we're looking at reality and that the decisions we make are the right ones," he said.

If the final deficit figure in January still stands at $900,000, officials will begin "the hard push" for local laws to change revenue streams, Hodges said. Failing that, "at six months in, then we have to start making any cuts that we need to make to get that budget balanced by the 2015 fiscal year."

Hodges said a number of cost-saving moves over the past months will help reduce some expenses to help the effort little by little. Commissioners are not discussing tax increases, but they might take a look at fees, he said.

Officials would not discuss any details concerning "local laws" until the commission can start reviewing ideas at the next work session Oct. 7.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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