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Judge's budget 'nightmare' comes true

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County will start year in hole after carryover funds fall short

By BEN CARLSON

Anderson County started its new fiscal year more than $50,000 in the hole after a hoped-for budget surplus didn’t materialize.

Judge-Executive Steve Cornish made the announcement during last Tuesday’s special-called meeting of the Anderson County Fiscal Court.

“My worse nightmare has come true,” Cornish said. “We needed to carry over a little more than $600,000 to balance the new budget and that’s not going to happen.”

Here’s how it works: The county typically has funds it carries over from one budget year to the next. Some of those funds are restricted, and include money in the E-911 account and money the county receives for road aid. What’s left is called capital outlay and is carried over into the next year’s budget.

For the past several years, the fiscal court has needed to dip into those reserves to balance its budget.

This year’s budget effectively eats up all of the county’s remaining capital outlay, which Cornish said ended up being $548,000 — less than half of what was available several years ago.

What that means is if the county spends what it has budgeted this year and revenues come in as expected, it will have no capital outlay funds to carry into next year’s budget, leaving what would be a $600,000 gap in a roughly $6 million budget.

News of the shortfall was somewhat surprising based on recent meetings when County Treasurer Dudley Shyrock told magistrates the county had in excess of $900,000 in capital outlay funds. In fact, magistrates approved in late May a motion that would have provided $100,000 in additional road funds if the capital outlay funds ended the year in excess of $800,000.

That $100,000 was money the county no longer gives the Extension District. Last year magistrates approved allowing the Extension to levy its own taxes, and voted to use the $100,000 to fix county roads.

Passing the current budget included plenty of unhappy comments by magistrates who chided Cornish for not having any budget committee meetings before proposing his budget plan.

At one point, Magistrate Forrest Dale Stevens said he was concerned money was being “hidden” in the budget.

Cornish said he has been warning of the budget shortfall since he took office in 2007.

“I’ve been saying this since I took office,” he said. “Balancing the budget has been eating into our reserves, and they have slowly but surely been dwindling.

“I knew there would come a time when we’d have to address that issue, and that time has come.”

Cornish said it’s too early to start considering what cuts might have to be made, but said services such as ambulance, jail, solid waste and the sheriff’s office all get county funds, as do the Senior Center and other community groups.

Also paid out of the general fund are salaries and benefits to the county’s 65 employees, all of which have received a total of 6 percent pay increases during the past years.

“I’ll look to see if we can maintain those programs, and look where we can cut the budget,” Cornish said.

Cornish said he is very concerned about the pending shortfall for next year, and has already started working on next year’s budget.

He said he’s confident this year’s $50,000 shortfall can be made up this year.

“We were conservative on revenues and hopefully we can make up that difference,” he said. “The problem is we are really going to have to watch our spending now.”

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.