“This year is not so feared,” Chairman Brian Tatum began the District College Court’s budget committee on Tuesday evening, September 28th.
He was referring to the numbers. In previous years, Van Buren County faced frequent cuts as the court prepared the budget for the following year. This does not appear to be the case for 2022.
Van Buren District Judge Dale James circulated figures prior to the session showing that the district’s General Fund, which manages most of the money for the district’s activities, held $ 208,461.76 on the same day last year. That year, the same fund held $ 1,095,596.91, a significantly larger amount.
James attributed the increase to county officials and “a lot of work” because spending was carefully managed and hiring decisions were not made automatically but only after determining whether a person leaving a position really needed to be replaced.
The positive numbers continued, with judges hearing that the county’s General Reserve Fund held $ 1,316,202.37, compared to $ 287,339.12 the previous year. (James pointed out in his presentation to the committee that $ 1 million of the money currently held has already been allocated to the library grant.)
In addition, there was revenue from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (which James called “Trump money”) to the county of $ 753,395.89. Since the collegiate court decided not to spend this money for 18 months after receiving it, the district was able to use it for a specific purpose as part of budget planning at its own discretion.
In addition, the county had received $ 1,609,763.95 in American Rescue Plan funds, with a second payment of the same amount due the next year. The difference is that, according to federal law, the ARP funds have to be spent on expenses related to “COVID”. As an example, however, the costs for a new heating and ventilation system for the courthouse were used.
James told the committee that the ARP budget is not needed until the end of the year, unlike the county budget. Also tell the judges, “You can do a lot with $ 3.6 million.”
Add to this the good news that Southwest Energy has declared its valuation fees late. The county took legal action on the matter in 2018 and eventually received payment in 2020 from Flywheel Energy, which had bought Southwest. Due to the delay, James told the judges, “We [the county] demand a lot of lost revenue. “
The loss allows the county to cut $ 1.1 million in lost revenue over the next three years, the judges said.
James’ overview sparked a discussion of what to do with the extra money. Tatum pointed out some immediate needs, such as the roof of the county annex, as well as what he called “hazard pay” for the sheriff’s department members who had personal dealings with the public during the COVID-19 health emergency.
The latter would be funded by the ARP Fund as it is one of its intended uses as it takes place in other counties.
The HVAC courthouse was raised a second time.
James also pointed out upcoming changes expected in 911 service.
State law has been updated to include additional charges for emergency operations, James said, but at the same time it was expected that few control centers would be needed in the state. This included situations where a particular shipping center would be able to serve more than one county. A Van Buren Center, which also serves Searcy County, was used as an example.
The changes, which resulted in Van Buren County’s immediate transition from two to a single center, would require further upgrades to 911 to meet new standards. The state currently has 127 control centers known as Public Safety Answering Point or PSAP, with plans to reduce this to a total of 77. That number is expected to decrease as the state refines its PSAP system.
If, under the budgetary procedure, the committee decides to allocate funds to the Van Buren County PSAP, this could result in this center serving more than just a single county. Judges have been advised that a CAD system is needed in order for the county’s PSAP to meet upcoming standards.
The motivation for this would be income.
“The counties, theirs [PSAP] Updates available…. These will be the districts that get the jobs, ”James told the court.
The judges were apparently pleased with the scope of the presentation, which James described as “Once in a Lifetime” as it presented ARP funding and the county health budget.
Judge Mary Philips: “This is really exciting, we don’t have to say ‘Suck it in’ [to department heads]. “
Judge Dell Holt, like Philips a longtime member of the Budgets Committee, echoed Philips’ sentiment and also said: “We” [the committee] You have to be really efficient. “
The meeting ended with department heads submitting what Holt called a “dream list” of projects (again mentioning the HVAC courthouse) in parallel with the 2022 budgets. The budget review will begin at the committee meeting on October 19.