Claremore Daily Progress

September 6, 2013

Commissioners to balance budget Monday

Elected officials cut requests to meet need

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE — Rogers County moved one step closer to a balanced budget Wednesday after elected officials and department heads met in a special meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.

The four-hour meeting had two rounds of cuts to a $21 million budget. The budget needed to be cut by about $2.7 million with $400,000 in cuts remaining after Wednesday’s meeting.

Some departments began the process with their requests mirroring last year’s numbers and others asked for an increase.

Commissioner Kirt Thacker said he understood why there could be an increase, but asked the officials to cut what they could.

Elected officials and department heads negotiated cuts as the commissioners listened to the explanation of needs, weighing them against the entire budget.

The biggest issue on the table was the recent formation of the 911 Trust Authority, and the impact it would have on the budget. Commissioner Mike Helm questioned how the county could continue to pay the salaries and benefits for the entire year when the trust should be able to handle the responsibility after January 2014.

Commissioner Dan DeLozier interjected that Helm’s expectation for the trust would exceed the funds available and effectively “break” it.

DeLozier said the board would have to continue to provide funding to support the E911 Center.

Helm said he thought it might be necessary for the county to take back the portion of the 911 fees, which are provided to the City of Claremore.

E911 Dispatching alone has increased the county’s budget by approximately $900,000 annually and many officials are questioning the feasibility of maintaining the current funding.

Helm has clearly stated he believes the responsibility should fall upon the trust authority and ultimately, the users of the center.

Another department some elected officials believe has placed a strain on the county’s budget is the human resource department, which has added approximately $165,000 to the annual budget.

E911 and Human Resources departments did not exist two years ago.

Thacker and Helm decided in 2012, to budget 95 percent of the county’s revenue, increasing the funds available by about $350,000.

This decision alone has prompted   DeLozier to become a vocal critic of the county’s increase in spending.

A slight disagreement concerning employee raises left Human Resource Director Jenny Bentley blowing off steam at District Court Clerk Kim Henry.

However, no final determination was made regarding an elected official’s ability to provide employee raises from their own cash account budget.

Several ideas about how to cut the budget to fit the approximately $18.9 million in available funds were presented.

Helm proposed a 10-percent cut in each department, excluding the T-Highway or One-Cent tax funding.

DeLozier presented a plan to give elected officials peace of mind by increasing the commissioners’ responsibility for employee benefits.

DeLozier’s proposal would require each commissioner to pay the benefits and salaries of every employee exceeding 15 from each district.

Those 15 employees’ benefits would be paid from the general fund, which currently pays all of the employee benefits for each district.

No final decisions regarding the budget were made during the special meeting and the board is expected to revue the matter further on Monday.