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Budget process for new fiscal year begins for county

Despite the anticipation of less income in fiscal year 2009 and the memory of a nasty struggle for money in the current budget, Chilton County Commission Chairman Allen Caton said the ongoing process of developing a county budget should go much smoother this year.

Commissioners are budgeting based on an average income from the last three fiscal years. In the past, anticipated income increases were relied on, and the overall budget was set based on the, for lack of a better word, wishes of the department heads.

“This way, we know how much we can spend,” Caton said. “It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. It’s so much easier when you know what you’re going to get.”

Also, a bill passed by the state Legislature requires each department head to submit request for his or her department. If the requested amount is compatible with the overall money available, then the department head decides how to the money is best used among the department’s various expenses. If a department requests too much, its budget is cut.

“It’s never been a true budget in the past,” Caton said. “You would run out of money, come back and we would give you some more.”

This situation was evident this fiscal year. About $6.5 million was budgeted, but income didn’t match that total and some departments spent more than they were allotted. Sheriff Kevin Davis even filed a lawsuit to try to win more money.

So, the county ended up borrowing $400,000, $210,000 of which has been spent.

Caton said he does not expect the commission will have to use the remaining $190,000, but the debt will still have to be included in the budget for FY2009.

The planned budget for next year is a little more than $5.84 million. Department heads have proposed their budgets, so now the commissioners must find a way to give each department as much as possible of what it wants. This is not a simple process: Caton estimates everyone involved will end up having spent between 30 and 40 hours of work on the budget. Monday’s commission meeting lasted for less than one hour, so commissioners were able to devote some time to the budget afterward in addition to work that was done before the meeting.

“We got a lot accomplished [Monday] morning, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Caton said.