06/28/06 — County will talk about budget

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County will talk about budget

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on June 28, 2006 1:55 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners plan to work out the final details of the 2006-07 county budget during a work session Thursday morning. Some of the last-minute changes would benefit the public school system and the Health Department.

The budget must be approved by July 1, according to state law, or the commissioners will have to approve an interim budget in order for the county government to continue operations.

County Manager Lee Smith said the proposed $106.5 million budget contains $17.8 million for the county school system. The school board had asked for an additional $1.2 million, but the commissioners will decide Thursday whether to give them about $831,000 of that requested amount. More than $300,000 of that amount would come from a reserve set aside for future school facilities needs, Smith said.

By the fall, Smith said, county officials should have an estimate of school facilities needs. The commissioners and school board have agreed to appoint a committee of their members to discuss school building needs over the summer.

The committee will determine which schools are in the most need of improvements, if any new schools need to be built and the cost of the projects. Once the committee comes up with a price tag for the projects, Smith said, a finance committee will be formed to determine the best way to pay for them. The sale of general obligation bonds is the most likely scenario for funding the projects.

Smith said that after the public has been given a chance to comment on the proposals, a bond referendum could be ready for the May election. The public would decide whether the county borrows the money through the sale of the bonds. Wayne's last major school-building initiative, in the early 1990s, was funded through the sale of bonds.

Included in money for schools will be $103,000 for the system's Wayne Initiative for School Health, or WISH, program. The program helps support health programs in the county's 31 schools.

The budget also will likely contain additional money for the county Department of Health.

Earlier this month, Health Department officials said they were concerned that the department would find itself in violation of state law unless an additional nurse was added to help deal with the number of patients who come to the department with sexually-transmitted diseases.

Health Department director Jim Roosen said the department had to turn away 17 patients with STDs in April because the available nurses could not care for them. State law requires that those patients be seen within 24 hours of being turned away, and Roosen said. He asked commissioners for an additional nurse to help with the caseload.

The county balked at first, but Smith said county officials discovered a vacant position in the Health Department that could be eliminated to make room for the new position at a cost of about $50,000 a year.

At the commissioners' last meeting, Smith suggested the county suspend writing any checks for two to three weeks to help the county officials ease into the new fiscal year. To close the county's books and balance the budget at the same time, Smith said it is easier for county officials to not have to worry about writing any additional checks. County offices stopped writing checks last Friday, and the policy is expected to continue for several more weeks.

Smith said all bills and employee salary payments have been conducted through wire transfers.

The county is required by state law to close its budget books before July 1, Smith said.

The budget work session on Thursday is an opportunity to make any needed amendments, to fix any mistakes and to close the books before the upcoming year's budget takes effect, Smith said.

The meeting will be held in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the County Courthouse at 8:30 a.m.