A county budget hearing Monday morning became somewhat heated as county commissioners were questioned by Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle about how his budget had been preliminarily pared down.
Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle said he was disappointed in proposed cuts to his budget.
After being asked whether any elected officials had anything to say about preliminary budget numbers at the hearing, the sheriff quickly stood up, saying he had one question in particular.
"I'd like an answer today ... My question is who made these cuts?'' asked Whittle, referring to preliminary figures that reflected changes to his earlier proposed budget, in which he had requested a 25 percent increase.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross told the sheriff that the process was still in the early stages and that any changes so far to proposed budgets were derived from a combination of county staff and a couple of commissioners.
Among the changes was the sheriff's request for about 14 new personnel. The figure was changed to six.
The sheriff then asked each commissioner individually whether he or she had made the cuts, with Commissioner Tommy Mercer saying, "I guess I made some of them.''
The sheriff said he wasn't upset about the reductions in his proposed budget but said the process "disappoints me.''
Whittle said it was the first budget process he had been involved in where cuts were suggested behind closed doors without his input.
"It's a critical issue because it (this year's process) has never been done before,'' the sheriff said, adding that in the past he had always met with commissioners on possible cuts before they were preliminarily reflected on a report. "My pitch is, we should do this in the open.''
County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen had a similar take on the issue.
"I need to echo that, too,'' she said. "I would appreciate a meeting where we do talk face to face.''
Cross said there had not been any intent on the commission to be subversive and that the commission planned to meet with elected officials about possible budget changes. County Administrator Steve Szablewski said that was partly the purpose of Monday's public meeting.
In other action, commissioners talked about proposed kiosks for the county at which residents could pay such things as property taxes with a credit card.
Commissioner Steve Brown said he didn't think the county should foot the bill for the fee of a credit card charge in order to allow residents a more convenient way to pay, because the county already allows payments with a credit card through the Internet. And in that case, the resident pays the credit card fee.
"I don't want the taxpayer to pick up the charge,'' he said. "Why should I have to pay for someone who can't write a check?''
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