Agency heads discuss impacts of budget cuts as county taps budgeted funds for new position

By Debbie Hall

Funds from a vacant position will be tapped to pay for a new county position.

Jane Fulk, board chairman, said the county needed a Director of Human Resources for cohesiveness.

Funds needed to pay the salary will be shifted from the assistant county administrator position, which will remain vacant, Fulk said.

Geri Hazelwood had served as assistant county administrator but became the county administrator on Sept. 1.

“The money to pay the salary for the HR director has already been budgeted. This is not a new expense,” Fulk said.

That is good news to some department heads, who are already concerned about potential negative impacts of next year’s spending plan.

“Basically, this year’s budget was balanced on the back of public safety, specifically the sheriff’s office, emergency management and volunteer fire departments and rescue agencies,” Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith said.

Smith said his budget was trimmed by $135,000 —— the majority, or $92,000, was needed to replace emergency vehicles.

The decrease in funds was on top of an additional more than $50,000 that Smith said he saved by rebidding contracts for certain services and maintenance, propane, inmate medical providers and others.

In total, his budget decreased by $185,000 in the current fiscal year’s spending plan that started July 1.

All of the jail transport vehicles have more than 130,000 miles, Smith said, adding that “at any given time, we could have four jail transports going on, and they could be across the state. The cars are not long-range trip worthy.”

While Smith said that situation is not yet desperate, except for a patrol vehicle that must be replaced this year, he is concerned about the county’s finances next year.

“We’ve spent the last 12 years trying to build up our fleet so that it is safe and dependable,” Smith said, and added that “for us to maintain a bare minimum level of decency for our officers, we have to buy a minimum of four cars each year. We’re going to need six to eight vehicles next year. What is the plan for that?”

“I understand and don’t mind doing my part, but this will have to be different next year,” Smith said. “Another year like this will put us in a desperate situation.”

Smith said he knows the board faced a daunting task.

“The supervisors had tough decisions to make in order to balance the budget, and I’m willing to do my part, but” he noted that public safety absorbed more than $400,000 of the nearly $900,000 deficit.

In addition to Smith’s office, that total includes furloughed annual contributions estimated at $237,000 combined to volunteer fire and rescue agencies.

Finance Director Donna Shough said funds for the fire and rescue departments are held in two separate accounts. The funds are used to help pay for big-ticket items, such as an ambulance or fire truck, and volunteer agencies take turns receiving the funds that are distributed annually.

The last agencies to receive the funds were the Jeb Stuart Rescue Squad and the Fairystone Volunteer Fire Department, Shough said. The Ararat Volunteer Fire Department and Vesta Volunteer Rescue Squad were slated to receive the funds this year.

Shough said that she does not know if next year’s budget will include funds for two fire departments and two rescue squads.

The board also cut $50,000 from Patrick County Emergency Management’s budget, according to Steve Allen, coordinator of the department.

“It takes well over a year to get a fire truck or an ambulance, and you have to pay so much up front,” Allen said, of the lead time needed to get a new emergency vehicle.

While he said it is too early to realize all the impacts, Allen said the dip in this year’s funds has prompted the department to perform routine vehicle maintenance in-house.

“We’re doing all of the vehicle maintenance at the station, changing oil, stuff like that,” he said. “We’re all concerned about next year.”

(Taylor Boyd contributed to this report.)

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