Macon County's budget for the upcoming 2013-2014 fiscal year is now official and has been released to the public via the county website. In a 3-2 vote last week, commissioners moved forward with the budget of $47,145,470. In the weeks leading up to the vote, various department heads met with the commissioners to make pleas for more funding for a variety of upgrades in different areas like personnel, equipment, and other projects.
Fontana Regional Library System
Karen Wallace, head librarian for the Fontana Regional Library, approached the board with an abundance of signatures to request an increase in funds. County Manager Jack Horton's original budget had allotted $980,000 to the system which operates three libraries in Macon County.
“We're experiencing an increased demand for our services as more people are experiencing economic challenges,” said Wallace. “We're there helping people find information, find jobs, helping people with literacy skills. Just helping people with whatever we can.”
Horton also pointed out the shortcomings that the library experienced as a result of the state's reduced allocation.
“This year the state has given a whopping $318,000,” he said. “If it wasn't for the county funding, there's no way the libraries could operate.”
Wallace requested an additional $30,000 and though she did not get the full amount, the library did see an increase of $19,390 bringing their budget to $999,390 for the year.
Under the recreation portion of the budget, parks and recreation director Seth Adams saw an increase this year. This year's allowance totals $624,107 while last year's budget sat at $551,09, a $73,010 increase.
The rec park has seen significant upgrades with the completion of the new pool, which according to Adams, has been at or near capacity every day since it opened. There is also anticipation for the new recreational facility that will be placed at the Parker Meadows property in the future should the PARTFE grant come through.
“I am happy with the Recreation Department's portion. I am pleased that we were able to balance the budget without a tax increase,” said Adams.
The Sheriff's Office saw an increase in budgeted money this year. The total comes to $4,051,336, a significant increase from last year's $3,900,209.
A large portion of that increase comes from two requests that Sheriff Robert Holland requested during the commissioner-hosted departmental meetings throughout the budgeting process. Holland pointed to the number of calls received over the last year, showing the board just how often the law enforcement services are used. The department had 13,337 emergency calls last year which translates to 37 calls each day; 13,740 walk-ins; and 16,391 non-emergency calls totaling 43,000 or 119 times a day.
He used these statistics as a segue to his request for more equipment used by his Special Response Team.
“The shelf-life of our equipment has been expired for several years now,” he said.
He had originally requested a budgeted amount of $22,800 to replace the equipment but at Horton's urging, whittled it down to $12,000. At the same meeting Commissioner Ronnie Beale had assured Holland that the funding for the equipment would be found somehow.
“This is a safety issue, I'm making it my prerogative to secure funding for this equipment,” he said.
At a followup meeting, Chairman Kevin Corbin informed the board that the entire amount would be given to the department instead of the $12,000.
“The full $22,800 that the Sheriff requested will be funded,” said Corbin. “I can't express how important the safety of our public and our officers are to this board.”
Holland had also requested two School Resource Officers, one in Nantahala School and another that would split time at South Macon and Union Academy.
“If we can only get one, then we need to put that officer at Union Academy and South Macon,” Holland said while referencing an incident where a student injured a teacher. “We need them in more than two schools, but I'm a realist,”
Emergency Medical Services
EMS also saw an increase in budget this year with a final number of $2,958,540, a $129,342 increase from last year's budget.
The defining factor between the two years may stem from a shortage of employees. EMS pays out a large amount in overtime, and time and-a-half, because there are not always enough people on the job to provide the services needed. In response to being shorthanded, a part-time employee may have to be called in.
“We have part-time employees that can work, but I had one last year that made around $40,000 because of all the over-time work he put in,” said Terry Bates, EMS Coordinator. “If we can hire more fulltime employees, we can avoid paying out so much in over-time work.”
Though Bates requested additional help, none was provided in this year's budget. Commissioner Jimmy Tate warned the Board of Commissioners when the 2013-2014 budget was adopted, that next year, the board would have to revisit the issue and figure out a solution.