Permanent Budget Approved By Athens County Commissioners

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A $13.2 million permanent general fund budget for 2014 was adopted Tuesday by the Athens County Commissioners.

The action comes after the County Budget Commission certified slightly more money than the $13.1 million that was in the temporary budget approved Dec. 31. The permanent budget retains a 3 percent salary pool for non-union employee pay raises that was in the temporary measure.

One thing not in the budget is additional money requested by the Cooperative Extension Service to upgrade the county agriculture agent to a full-time position, although the commissioners indicated they are still considering it.

In November, the Cooperative Extension Service asked the commissioners to budget an additional $44,420, which would have included making the agriculture agent full-time and adding a half-time family consumer science position. Last week, the commissioners were presented with a reduced proposal that included only additional funding for the agriculture agent.

Commission President Lenny Eliason said $20,000 would need to be added to the budget to allow the full-time agent.

"I think we ought to have a bigger say in who is hired if we're providing the money," Commissioner Charlie Adkins said Tuesday.

Cooperative Extension is a program of Ohio State University, and the current hiring process calls for OSU to screen the candidates, do interviews and make recommendations. Candidates would then be interviewed by a local committee. The person hired would be an employee of OSU, not the county.

Agriculture agent Hal Kneen, who had been splitting his time between Athens and Meigs Counties, retired at the end of November.

Eliason said the commissioners are considering providing the additional money, but have not yet made a commitment to do so.

"There are a lot of moving parts to that (decision)," Eliason said, noting that Common Pleas Judge George McCarthy informed the commissioners Tuesday that the x-ray machine at the Courthouse entrance needs replaced. Although it is currently working, there have been recent maintenance problems. A new one would cost about $21,000, but the commissioners want to see if it can be bought through lease-purchase, which would spread the cost over more than one budget.

The commissioners adopted a temporary budget on Dec. 31 because they wanted a better idea of revenue available in 2014, including carryover funds. Eliason said the carryover from 2013 ended up being $1.28 million.

The permanent general fund budget approved Tuesday includes a contingency fund of $113,635, but Eliason said most of that will go to jail costs. He said the actual contingency amount is about $20,000, although that could increase if the way the county is charged for beds at the jail is modified.

Although the contingency is only $20,000, it's anticipated that additional income will become available during the course of the year.

The general fund is used for the operations of all county elected officeholders, with the exception of the county engineer's department that is funded from other sources.

The commissioners also have approval over the overall budgets of several outside entities — Children Services and the Board of Developmental Disabilities, for example. All totaled, the commissioners approved a 2014 budget of $71.5 million.