By CHRIS MENEES
As Obion County officials weigh funding requests for next year’s budget, they are also considering funding options.
The Obion County Budget Committee voted Monday evening for a trio of funding options to be researched and brought back to county commissioners for consideration.
Those options include a county-operated probation program and county-operated driving school for traffic offenders — rather than using private contractors for those services — and the return of the litigation tax for jail improvements.
The budget committee gathered Monday evening in the chancery courtroom at the Obion County Courthouse to begin the 2013-14 budget process with its first budget hearing of the year.
Before hearing non-profit budget requests, budget committee chairman Jerry Grady asked his fellow commissioners on the panel to consider the trio of proposed funding options. He opened discussion by asking why Obion County can’t operate its own driving school like some other counties and further suggested a committee be appointed to discuss the possibility of a county-operated probation program.
Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder said the sheriff’s department already has an instructor for driving school and it can be taught.
In regard to probation services, commissioner Danny Jowers said he never thought it was a good idea for a private enterprise to handle county money and he believes the county should look into the operation of its own service. He said he doesn’t understand why some people are taken off probation when they still owe fines.
“There’s a lot of money out there uncollected,” Jowers said.
After the budget committee approved the assignment of a committee to study probation operation, Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire said the committee will include General Sessions Judge Jimmy Smith, Vastbinder, Circuit Court Clerk Harry Johnson, Jowers and commissioner Donnie Braswell.
It was noted a county-operated probation service has been discussed in the past but never brought to fruition and Braswell said he hopes commissioners will see it through this time.
The litigation tax which is also being weighed as a funding option for jail upgrades had been adopted by the county commission in September 2000 specifically for jail or workhouse construction, upgrades or debt retirement. It set a tax of $10 per case on litigation in all civil and criminal cases instituted in the county, other than those instituted in municipal courts, to help pay for the Obion County Law Enforcement Complex opened in November 1998.
The jail note was paid in full as of May 1, 2012, but budget committee members have since discussed the need for the tax to be reinstated to help fund jail improvements that include replacement of the heating and cooling system.
In addition, budget committee members voted Monday that security upgrades also be studied for the jail, the courthouse and the county school system. Vastbinder made reference to a good fingerprint entry system — as opposed to code or key systems — that is being used in some other counties, and Braswell said its feasibility needs to be studied to upgrade security.
Funding requests from various non-profit agencies and civic organizations were also considered by the budget committee Monday evening during its first budget hearing for the next fiscal year.
Among those approved by the committee were the Obion County Rescue Squad, $10,000; the Northwest Tennessee Chapter of the American Red Cross, $5,000; Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, $2,500; pauper burials, $1,800; Obion County Senior Citizens Center, $27,500; Obion County Fair Association, $4,000; Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Tennessee, $1,000; Obion County Soil Conservation District (salary), $24,800; West Tennessee River Basin Authority, $25,200; Union City Industrial Board (Tyson annual payment), $58,968; Joint Economic Development Council dues, $11,000; Northwest Tennessee Development District dues, $4,752; North-west Tennessee Human Resources Agency dues, $4,355; I-69 Coalition dues, $1,400; Veterans Service Office, $14,410; Veterans Service Office computer, $399; Association of TVA dues, $626; Tennessee County Services Association dues, $1,674; and Tennessee Rehabilitation Center at Union City, $75,740.
All those amounts were the same as those agencies received in the 2012-13 budget year, with the exception of the Veterans Service Office, which received $344 more for 2013-14.
The committee did not grant funding requests for Northwest Tennessee Disaster Services, which had requested $5,000 and had received $1,000 in the current budget year; the Jackson Area Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, which had requested $3,000; state forestry, which had sought a $2,000 appropriation; and Star Center of Jackson, which had requested $500.
Budget committee members had also received a copy of Everett-Stewart Regional Airport’s proposed budget and a $20,000 funding request, the same as last year, but its approval was delayed until some questions can be answered.
In other action Monday evening, the budget committee received the Obion County Election Commission’s proposed budget from administrator of elections Leigh Schlager and voted to approve it.
The election budget was lowered 12 percent from last year, partly because there is only one election this year vs. two elections last year. The county received reimbursement for last year’s presidential preference primary.
It was also noted at Monday’s meeting that the county is mandated to give elected officials a pay increase in next year’s budget and there is also still uncertainty about insurance rates for the next year.
The eight members of Obion County’s budget committee include Grady, Jowers, Braswell, Sam Sinclair, Richard Arnold, Allen Nohsey, Ralph Puckett and Terry Roberts. All of them were present.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 4.16.13