A Columbia County budget meeting Monday began with commissioners looking at ways to make cuts to offset what would be about a $3 million deficit for the coming fiscal year if all department heads get their way.
Before county department heads even had the chance to make their case Monday, commissioners began asking about Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle's budget request that was submitted a week earlier, saying all of his 25 percent budget increase proposal wouldn't make it off the cutting room floor.
"I know Clay is not going to get a 25 percent increase on his budget,'' Commissioner Tommy Mercer said.
The 25 percent increase would account for $1.2 million more than what the sheriff budgeted in the 2004-05 fiscal year, said Leanne DeLoach, the county's finance director. The sheriff has requested 14 more personnel, including eight road patrol deputies and four bike patrol officers. He has said additional officers are needed because his department is receiving more calls than in the past, preventing his deputies from spending enough time on preventative patrolling. Whittle's expenditure request was for $12.3 million, including personnel costs.
After discussing the sheriff's budget, commissioners then turned to officials at the meeting Monday. Among those to go before commissioners was Barry Smith, the county's community and leisure services director. Smith asked on behalf of the county's elections office for $38,000 for 14 more electronic voting machines.
He said there is a need to have more early voting locations in the county any time an early voting week is needed. Currently, the county allows early voting only at the county's elections office at the Evans Government Complex. The idea, Smith said, is to add two more locations because of long lines at the only early voting location.
To do so, he said, the county would have to purchase 14 more electronic voting machines. Commissioners asked why the voting machines the county already has can't be used in those locations.
They were told voting machines used in early voting week can't be moved to other locations to receive votes.
"It's got to stay untouched until all the others come in,'' Smith said.
Commissioners then struck down a request from the county's extension service office to allow for an $8,000 cell phone allowance. Commissioners said that because the extension service is a state office, the county shouldn't have to provide such assistance. The county already provides the extension service such things as supplies, training and mileage reimbursements to county events.
Also as part of the budget request was a generator for Patriots Park to allow it to be used as a shelter in emergencies.
Pam Tucker, the county's emergency services director, said a generator is badly needed for Patriots Park.
"It would give us that one safe place that would have power,'' Tucker said.
County Commission Chairman Ron Cross agreed, but added a small caveat.
"I think we need to look at it, if we could get a (generator) unit on wheels,'' he said, adding that it should be used at other locations as well.
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