Headline: Bid to approve 2020 county budget put off after opposition

Byline: By Ray King of The Commercial Staff

A bid to win approval from the finance committee of the Jefferson County Quorum Court for a proposed 2020 budget Tuesday night crashed and burned after two members of the judiciary and several justices of the peace balked.

County Judge Gerald Robinson submitted what he said was a budget that would meet state requirements that the county only appropriate 90 percent of anticipated revenue but his proposal was met with opposition, particularly from Circuit Judge Alex Guynn and Jodi Raines Dennis.

“This budget is not what I submitted ,” Dennis said. “This budget is half of what I was allocated (in 2019).”

She said under the proposed 2020 budget, the bailiff who works in her court will only be paid for six months.

“I will not be able to conduct court without a bailiff,” she said.

Guynn told Robinson that he requested a$110,000 budget for 2020 and that is what he needed to run his office.

In the proposed 2020 budget, Guynn, who is the First Division Circuit Judge is slated to receive $79,000.

“I can not work off the $79,000,” Guynn said. “The county judge doesn’t run my office.”

Guynn later said Robinson was “not being transparent and trying to run the county.”

The proposal was tabled and will be brought back up when the Quorum Court meets in December.

“It’s all personal,” Robinson said Wednesday. “I’ve been open the whole process.”

He said that anticipated county revenue for 2020 is $315,000 less than what was projected for this year, so cuts had to be made to every budget

Robinson said that a declining population has resulted in a decline in revenue and the county can’t “pull money out of the sky.”

He went on to say that while some county departments like the tax collector produce revenue others like the assessor don’t but it’s just as important to try and take care of the assessor’s needs as it is the needs of the tax collector.

“All the offices are vital,” Robinson said.

He said that during the budget process, he and elected officials went through each budget line by line and contrary to Guynn who said the process was bad, Robinson said “it was a great process. We eliminated some of the slush and found ways to use some of the money better.”

“A line item budget is also what the auditors suggested,” Robinson said. “You can’t have the same budget year after year (which has been done in the past). We’ve made some changes but we’ve not made everybody happy.”

Robinson said he was offended when he was referred to as a “dictator” during the meeting but was “going to keep doing my job and keep doing what I feel we need to do. We can’t go on like we have.I was offended but I’ve got tough skin.”

Much of the early part of the meeting was devoted to finding funding for the juvenile detention center to cover salaries and expenses for the rest of the year. In October, the Quorum Court approved an emergency $40,000 appropriation which covered the payroll at the end of that month. Those funds were transferred from Jefferson County District Court. On Tuesday, another $40,000 emergency appropriation ordinance was adopted which will cover the Nov. 15 payday. That money came from the county’s emergency fund.

It has been proposed that money that has been collected from the one-cent public safety sales tax that has been appropriated but not disbursed be used to cover the additional funds needed.

According to information collected by the sheriff’s department, on Oct. 25, there was a cash balance of $328,091.01 in the Public Safety Sales Tax Fund. When that tax was adopted, an ordinance was written to outline where the money would be used. That ordinance money for rural fire departments, juvenile justice and district court and a new ordinance would be necessary to change those uses or amounts.

A meeting between all parties who receive the sales tax money, elected officials and others is set for Thursday at 10:30 am. in the Quorum Court room to try and find a solution to the problem.

The first 20 minutes of the nearly two-and-a-half hour meeting was devoted to a discussion initiated by Justice of the Peace Alfred Carroll who proposed reading each ordinance in its entirety, rather than continue the practice of reading the ordinances by title only.

Carroll said that would benefit the public who don’t have access to the proposed legislation but other members of the legislative body, including Justice of the Peace Dr. Herman Ginger said “The public elected us to take care of business for then” and Justice of the Peace Ted Harden said that packets containing all the proposals are delivered to members of the Quorum Court on Thursday, giving the several days to review the contents.

Justice of the Peace Jimmy Fisher, who was chairman of the Public Safety Committee which was meeting the time made the decision to read the proposals by title only but added that he would read enough of the proposal to be sure the other members of the committee would knew which proposal was being presented.

“I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but I’m not the butter knife,” Fisher said.