Grayson looks at budget challenges

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Expenses growing for child services, juvenile detention, regional jail

By Shaina Stockton

At the Grayson County Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 10 meeting, County Administrator Bill Shepley provided an overview for the upcoming budget session.

He explained that upcoming financial challenges will require the county to review certain areas of the budget.

“There are three new stresses on the government that are growing at an alarming rate, with the fastest growth in expenditures. They include funding associated with the Child Services Act, which is mandated by the courts; funding for juvenile detention, which is mandated by the state; and the increasing costs of the regional jail, which we are also a part of,” said Shepley.

Regarding the Child Services Act, Shepley noted that state funding was recently reduced by $5.9 million, a portion of which will affect the budget on a local level.

Overall, expenditures for these three areas are increasing at a rate of 25-100 percent, Shepley noted.

“This is not sustainable, given our current revenues. Over the next few years, revenue will have to be reviewed in order to continue to meet the needs of the county, as well as the mandated expenditures,” Shepley said.

Moving forward, Shepley explained that the county will review all sources of revenue to see if rates should be adjusted. This could lead to rate increases or decreases.

Shepley said the general fund for the county government currently sits at 20 percent of the total budget, a reduction from 26 percent. The change was primarily due to paying for teacher salary increases, Shepley said.

“We need to maintain a fund balance of 20 percent or more to remain financially healthy,” Shepley said. Additionally, paying for several new services to improve life for citizens are still a priority. These include:

Investments in broadband, to expand accessibility to all citizens in the county;

• Increasing access to healthcare — Shepley noted that citizens of Grayson County drive an average of 50 minutes for healthcare; the national average is 17 minutes;

• Spending more energy on the economic development aspects of agriculture and tourism. “This will occur through the hiring of individuals to help us in that arena,” Shepley said.

Shepley also noted that the county hired Mike Musser to work with emergency medical services; and funding will need to be considered to help this venture, as well.

Shepley said that the team plans to meet with the Treasurer Kelly Haga and has already met with Commissioner of Revenue Larry Bolt.

“We are seeking a united strategy for managing the needs of the county; and we appreciate the time they gave us last year and this year,” Shepley said.

Shepley noted his pride in the team that has served Grayson County over the past 10 years.

“This team has managed expenses so well over the years, the county has increased annual budgetary expenses at well below 1 percent per year after inflation. In fact, that number is 0.39 percent during that 10-year time frame,” Shepley said.

During that period, despite moderate increases in the budget, the county managed to fund several projects, including:

• The new Grayson Sheriff’s Office;

• The GATE Center;

• Public Service Authority and IT departments;

• The new pedestrian walking trail;

• New roof, carpet and lights for the Grayson County Public Library;

• Upgrades to county buildings;

• Upgrades to the softball field;

• Increased recycling capabilities.

“Grayson County is on the cusp of great things. We have strong relations with all of the town governments in the county; and we all look forward to working with local and regional partners to turn the dreams we have into reality. To do this, we need citizens to work together. We need their input and support to help us make that happen,” said Shepley.

I also want to take a second and say that, as we observe what is going on at the federal government level, we want to contrast this with a board you all have selected to represent you,” Shepley added. “They represent all different aspects and perspectives on politics, and we are not united in political views; they cover the gamut. They have overcome those potential obstacles to do what is best for the people in the county. The people who elected them should be credited for doing that. We hope that we are a reflection of what should be happening in federal government.”

Speaking directly to the board, Shepley stated, “During my time here, I have never seen you make a vote that is purely based on Republican, Democratic or independent views.”