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Fiscal Court holds first reading of 2015 budget

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By Randy Patrick

The Nelson County Fiscal Court on Wednesday approved a $22.4 million budget for the county government for the 2015 state fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The spending plan, which must have a second reading and be voted on again, includes a 1.5 percent pay raise for employees and about $150,000 more than last year’s budget for county roads.

“It hasn’t changed dramatically … from last year to this year,” County Judge-Executive Dean Watts said as he presented the budget to the magistrates for discussion.

The budget estimates $18.2 million in revenue and $22.4 million in expenses, with $1.2 million from other receipts and transfers and an almost $3 million carryover from the previous year’s budget.

Most of the income is from county taxes and fees, charges for government services and intergovernmental transfers, such as grants.

In the general fund, the biggest outlay is $1.57 million for protection of persons and property, which includes law enforcement, emergency medical services, dispatching, fire protection and emergency management.

The road fund is $3.6 million, and there’s also $51,900 in road money in the general fund and $80,000 for roads in the local government economic assistance fund.

One of the significant changes to road funding this year, Watts said, is that in addition to the amount each magistrate is allocated for his district, there is $120,000 allocated to the county judge-executive to distribute as he and the full court thinks is most appropriate. When he first presented the budget April 29, he said the change would take some of “the politics” out of how the money is spent.

During the meeting Wednesday, Watts proposed giving Magistrate Jerry Hahn $13,000 out of that allocation for a road in his district.

In addition to public safety and transportation, the largest expenses in the budget are for health and sanitation, which includes animal control, the jail, capital projects and administration.

Given the uncertainty of health care costs under the new federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the budget boosts the amount allocated to health insurance for employees.

“We’re budgeting a substantial increase in health insurance, not knowing what it will come in at,” Watts said.

The allocation for health insurance is just under $300,000.

Magistrate Sam Hutchins said he would like for the health insurance bill to come due near July 1 when the budget is passed.

“I want to see the numbers along with this,” he said. “It’s been one of my pet peeves for eight years.”

Watts responded that the county has had premium increases as high as 22 percent before, but last year got by with a 7.5-percent rise.

Watts said he also budgeted a 10 percent increase in workers compensation, but the county just got the bill, and it’s going to be a $10,000 cut, which “will help our budget,” he said.

Last year, workers comp was cut about $20,000.

“You’ve got to have a cushion” in the budget, he said.

In general government, part of the spending is for county officials’ salaries, staff and office expense. The county judge-executive, for example, gets a salary of $95,000 and the total outlay for his office is $143,300. The magistrates’ salary and expenses are $120,200, with $78,200 of that in salaries.

The County Treasurer’s Office gets $73,800.

The Joint City-County Planning Commission is allocated $186,200, all of it being salaries.

Magistrate Jeff Lear, the only Republican on the Fiscal Court, said he was satisfied with the plan.

“It’s very conservative on income, and it’s realistic on expenses. I’m pleased with it overall,” he said.