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County spending froze again

Commissioners asked county offices to curb expenses Thursday, enacting the second temporary spending freeze this year.

Friday, September 28, 2001

Commissioners asked county offices to curb expenses Thursday, enacting the second temporary spending freeze this year.

"Surrounding counties are borrowing funds to operate," commission president Paul Herrell said. "We’re not; and we’re not going to."

Herrell, commissioner George Patterson and commissioner Jason Stephens approved the resolution to freeze spending after hearing reports from county auditor Ray Dutey.

In the last three months, sales tax collections have been 7 percent below levels from a year ago, and those checks are two months behind, Dutey said, predicting worse revenue problems later this year.

"We’re getting short on funds and we need to freeze everything until the cash situation picks up," he said. "If the economy doesn’t bounce back, I can foresee problems at the beginning of the year."

Salary accounts will be paid. Emergency expenditures can be considered on a case-by-case basis, commissioners said.

"I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we need to be careful," Herrell said. "We won’t keep it (the freeze) on any longer than we have to."

The county received little reaction at an officeholders meeting afterward – which included judges, the prosecutor, veterans services representatives, election board officials, engineer, recorder and others.

Herrell said the meeting was called to ask for cooperation in making only emergency purchases.

Auditors in surrounding counties, like Jackson, Gallia and Scioto, are worried, with some borrowing funds just to meet payroll, Dutey said.

Lawrence County’s second half real estate tax collections should receive state approval in several weeks, so there’s no problem getting through the rest of the year here, he said.

"But cashflow is at a low," Dutey said, adding the county is barely making payroll now. "We need to put this temporary freeze back on until we get back up, or at the first of the year there’ll be more drastic changes."

Commissioners said the county will have to absorb increases in health insurance costs and worker’s compensation costs, which will significantly affect the budget since carryover funds are likely to be low – the same situation that lead to a spending freeze earlier this year.

Offices need to watch salary account spending, buy the cheapest grade gasoline they can, limit travel and take other precautions, the auditor said.

Even paying phone bill payments will be held in the auditor’s office until the last minute, because the main objective is to meet payroll, officials said.

Officeholders asked how long the spending freeze would last. Herrell reiterated that it would remain no longer than necessary.

Still, there’s some hope in the future financial picture, commissioners said.

Duke Energy expects to start construction, using several hundred sales tax paying workers, in December. And, employees are finding ways to cut costs, commissioners said, commending employees at the dog pound who found companies willing to donate dog food.

"We just need to start work on this problem now to keep us in good shape," Herrell said.