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Commission approves thinned down budget

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Cuts go as high as 29 percent

By Lou Elliott Jones

The Levy County Commission has a workable budget on the table, but they are not yet finished with it and the margin for error – handling emergencies — is only $500,000.  Deputy Clerk Sheila Rees, who handles county finances, said the budget document drawn up by her, County Coordinator Freddie Moody and Clerk of Courts Danny Shipp uses $4.5 million in reserves to balance the county’s accounts and has only $500,000 to cover emergency expenditures in the $53 million budget. “That’s not a real safe place to be, having reserves of only $500,000,” said Commission Chair Nancy Bell of Chiefland. While some departments — like the State Attorney and Public Defender offices have not cut their budget from this year’s level at all — others, like animal services took a 29 percent hit. Sheriff Johnny Smith, who is asking for about $11 million to run his department and who has irritated commissioners with his purchases of vehicles and 3 percent raises for employees, has only cut his request by 1/4 of 1 percent. Commissioner Marsha Drew of Yankeetown who has been a critic of Smith’s spending told him he needed to go to last year’s budget and reduce it. “I’d like you to take 5 percent from last year’s budget,” she said. “I’ve cut as much as can be cut,” Smith said.  “Less than a quarter of 1 percent is not — to me — showing us that you are going to work with us,” Bell said. Maj. Evan Sullivan, Smith’s No. 2 in law enforcement, said if the budget is cut any further services will be cut. Sullivan said the sheriff will be cutting the SWAT, dive team, marine and CERT program. Smith said, “My hand’s been called. I have no other choice.” The commissioners acknowledged the room was packed with deputies in green, investigators in plain clothes and dispatchers. Smith and Sullivan explained that while the commissioners might be unhappy with the 3 percent pay raise Smith gave officers in May, it is in effect and is part of a union contract and said they viewed the increase against the commission’s payment of health insurance premiums for county workers who have not had a pay increase for three years.  Sullivan noted that the county workers have a good program and he’s thankful they do, but he said unlike the county workers’ program with low deductibles and co-pays the sheriff’s workers have a$5,000 individual and $10,000 family deductible and pay their $317 monthly premium. Sullivan said if the deputies joined the county program the sheriff would kick in the $802,000 that’s paid for insurance and leave it to the commissioners to rind the rest of the money for the $1.2 million premium in the county’s insurance pool for premiums. While the sheriff’s budget was still unsettled at the end of the discussion, the commission did decide to buy medical insurance coverage for county jail inmates. Te premium would be about $64,000. It has a $10,000 per inmate deductible and pays up to $250,000 per inmate in medical claims. As for other departments, the commission heard from several that have been cut and made cuts to others. Emergency Medical Services which had requested two new ambulances, the commission had removed the request, but it was back in the budget they received on Tuesday, replaced by the budget-cutting trio. But Drew pressed her case to delay the purchase noting that the department is purchasing three units this year and she does not want the fleet replaced all at once with two more. She said she would rather have EMS purchase one replacement per year.  The commission in a series of votes rejected buying one ambulance, two ambulances and finally decided on a budget with no new ambulances.