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Grayson closer to final budget

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County citizens will soon have their chance to voice concerns with the proposed budget as supervisors close in on a set of numbers to advertise.

Board members met for another budget work session last Wednesday night and began with a brief recap from County Administrator Jonathan Sweet.

Sweet explained all the reductions made in budgets controlled by the county administration. Overall, the budgets saw a 12.9 percent reduction — which surpassed the goal of a county-wide 10 percent reduction in expenses.

Sweet said not only were county budgets decreased, but so was spending for boards, authorities, commissions and organizations.

“We are going to have to do more or at least the same this year with less money,” Sweet said. “That in itself is going to be a challenge, particularly when we know costs have increased and the budget has decreased.”

No new funding requests were permitted this year and any new organizations seeking money from Grayson were shut out.

“If you weren’t already in, then you’re out… if you were in, you’ve been reduced 10 percent,” Sweet said of the various portions of the county’s budget.

He added that the county has foregone all “non-essential” expenses, including the purchase of a new lawnmower that is needed and major repairs on the county pool.

While the largest part of the expenses comes under personnel, Sweet told supervisors that to deliver the services citizens expect, people are required.

The county has put a freeze on all hiring, including replacing a much-needed building inspector.

Sweet said maintenance workers are being cross-trained to assist on various inspections to help save money and time.

In the parks and recreation department, the county offset more than $23,000 in part-time expenses by utilizing workers from programs such as the Day Report Program, Goodwill and Wytheville Community College.

Additionally, the county has invested in some equipment that no longer requires hiring personnel on a part-time basis. This includes things like the new claw truck that is used to load junk cars.

Sweet explained that what once took nine men more than eight weeks to do is now being done by one or two. “We are providing our staff with the right tools to do the job at the most effective cost.”

In the coming weeks, the county will also hold public hearings to consider increases in water rates in the Fairview Community, as well as increases to the building and zoning permit fees.

The county has sought and will continue to seek grant money to offset needed expenses. One such grant is the $858,000 the county will receive to make the courthouse more “green.”

Part of this money will be used to purchase a new air tower, boiler and heat pumps.

“Using green technology upgrades to the courthouse is going to have long-term savings in our utility expenses, as well,” Sweet said.

The county switched health insurance carriers to avoid an 18.3 percent increase in rates and employees have foregone salary and/or cost of living pay increases for three consecutive years.

Overall, the 12.9 percent reduction equates to a savings of $310,662, Sweet said.

One topic of debate left in the current budget is whether the board will pick up the state funding reductions to constitutional officers.

The state has reduced the funding in the current budget and plans to continue that reduction into next year. Sweet had previously recommended the board pick up the most recent reduction to help those offices out.

Last Wednesday night, Supervisor Mike Maynard reiterated the problem with doing that. He explained that, once they county covers those cuts in state funding, they will forever be Grayson's responsibility.

In total, the county would need to provide $21,000 to the constitutional officers to offset the reductions.

Before making a decision, supervisors said they wanted to hear from the officers on what impact the reductions will have.

Supervisors will welcome the constitutional officers to their public hearing for the budget to express what the reductions will mean.

The public hearing will be held in June, but the supervisors will meet again Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. for a briefing on the proposed budget.