By Joseph Hamrick
The Commerce Journal
An increase in funding infrastructure or pay raises for Hunt County employees were the major topics of discussion in a lively Hunt County Commissioners Court budget hearing on Aug. 9.
Hunt County Auditor Jimmy Hamilton said after the commissioners decide how much money it would take to fund their respective precincts, they need to look at how much money it will take to run the county.
“We need to fund the 800-pound gorilla called the general fund,” he said.
“And of course you know some of the demands upon that: court appointed attorneys, capital murder expense, all those other judicial functions. Those are the big ones.”
Hamilton used Precinct 2 Commissioner Jay Atkins as an example of the options he can take to fund infrastructure.
“As you can see, it will take $425,648 in beginning cash, plus estimated tax revenues of $820,500, plus the other revenues minus then the expenditures,” he said.
To be able to meet the beginning cash balance, Hamilton said Atkins would need to either lower the proposed expenditures by around $370,000, raise the tax rate enough to generate the funds or cut the $370,000 from the general fund.
In the three years Atkins has been on the court, he has lost nearly a year’s worth of funding due to cutbacks.
“Between budget cuts, which were a necessity and hold-back money, I’ve lost one full year out of three,” he said, adding that it totals approximately $1.3 million.
Atkins said he has a fourth but unpopular option.
“We raised taxes last year for the purpose of giving pay raises to the employees of the county,” he said, adding that the court’s first priority should be to take care of the infrastructure of the county. “So I would suggest a fourth option. This year if money’s this tight then the pay raise is going to have to wait a year.”
To fund the pay raise and benefits increase this year, a total of $501,965 would need to be taken from the Hunt County budget.
Atkins said he couldn’t see justifying another pay increase while not being able to repair the infrastructure.
“I’ve gotten to the point where it’s starting to impede on the infrastructure I’m responsible for,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to look at the tax payers and say ‘Well, we’re not going to fix your roads but we’re going to give pay raises again.’ At the end of the day I know it’s not a popular stance to not go along with the pay raise. I just don’t see how if we’re going to lose anywhere between 20 and 30 percent of our budgetary abilities per year how we can justify a pay raise. We’re not doing the tax payers right by that.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Latham said he disagrees with Atkins.
“I disagree with that,” he said. “The greatest thing we have is our employees. If we don’t have our employees, then we don’t have anything else.”
Latham said the commissioners also have to look at the negative impact of Rubbermaid and Covidien has on the budget.
According to Hunt County Judge John Horn, he is there to do the will of the commissioners.
“If there’s something that needs to be done in the budget, gentlemen, I’d be more than happy,” he said.
“If we need to rob from Peter to pay Paul, if we need to take out of the general fund to accommodate needs because we missed the mark. I’m here to try to help accommodate that with the assistance of the auditing department.”
Horn said it is up to the commissioners to decide on where to go with the budget.
“I’ve always respected the commissioners on the fact that y’all decide the pie and then you manage your roads,” he said. “If it needs to change, today’s the day to talk about it.”
Atkins said the commissioners need to change their priority from the pay raises to the infrastructure needs of the county.
“We’ve got to do something different than what we’re doing today. We’ve got to,” he said.
The next budget hearing is scheduled for Aug. 16 at 10 a.m. in the auxiliary courtroom on 2700 Johnson Street.