County Judge Joel Baker officially opened Fiscal Year 2015 budget discussions Tuesday after weeks of behind-the-scenes sessions with the auditor's office.

Baker, who also acts as the court's budget officer, said he and auditor Ann Wilson had been "scrubbing" the budget after receiving initial funding requests from elected officials and department heads.

He reminded everyone it was early in the process but opened the floor for discussion, comments or questions. Baker has until the end of July to file a proposed budget.

"Things are shaping up nicely," Baker said.

On the up side, Ms. Wilson noted revenues were higher than expected, due in part to higher-than-expected sales tax revenues and steady collection of fines and fees. However, she said there would be budget overruns within this budget, specifically inmate shipping costs, if out-of-county housing trends continue.

The county could exceed $600,000 budgeted by $210,000 by the end of the budget year Sept. 31.

Baker said a downward trend in out-of-county prisoners had court members hopeful the amount would cover costs after budgeting $975,000 the prior year. The county spent $856,964 on housing inmates in other counties that year.

Sheriff Larry Smith addressed the court and asked to present backup documentation for his funding requests at a future open meeting. He said requests to address staffing the new jail expansion, to bring staff salaries closer to pay scales across the state to increase employee retention and to replace aging vehicles in the patrol division would be part of the presentation.

"I just want to be able to come back and present concerns to the entire court," he said.

Commissioner JoAnn Hampton noted some public service requests were not within the preliminary documentation. Ms. Wilson and Baker said there were several budget items, which were not included in the file presented to the court. Baker said the requests would be included in future budgets.

The court approved $86.4 million in expenditures last year, including operating expenses and debt service.

Transportation and funding county road projects is the top priority for a consensus of court members. They want to see more funding for the Road and Bridge Department and major infrastructure projects that have been put off since the county entered "maintenance only" mode.

"I'm hoping for additional millions (of dollars) to apply to overlays and rebuilds," Commissioner Jeff Warr told the court.

Road and Bridge administrators requested $3.5 million over the $1 million the department received for asphalt last year alone.

Resident Bob Brewer addressed the court to discuss changes the GOP platform made at the party's state convention last week. He noted official opposition to the use of Transportation Reinvestment Zones and other funding mechanisms he said would take local property taxes to fund state and federal road projects. The court is considering creation of such a zone to expedite completion of future segments in Smith County.

The next budget workshop is scheduled for July 1 following the regular commissioners court meeting.



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