County budget committee hears requests from fire dept., DSCC, library
The Dyer County Budget Committee took on a full agenda on Wednesday morning as the fire department, McIver's Grant Public Library and Dyersburg State Community College pitched their funding requests. After the three departments had made their presentations Commissioner William Mallard, chairman of the budget committee, announced that his rough estimates indicate that the general fund budget has received approximately $87,000 more in requests this year when compared to last year's budget. The committee is still pending budget requests from the sheriff's department and county schools, the county's largest departments.
Dyer County Fire Chief James Medling kicked the morning off by requesting a significant increase to the fire department budget to cover the purchase of two brush trucks. Medling explained that brush trucks are used in the majority of county calls as they can not only be used for the common grass and car fires but they can also be used on most medical calls. The brush truck at Lenox is no longer in service and must be replaced and the brush truck at Bonicord is on its last legs but can be used at Bruceville, which currently does not have a brush truck, if Bonicord receives a new brush truck. As Medling noted the demands on fire departments nationwide for medical support are going up because the baby boomer generation is getting older and is requiring more medical attention.
"The baby boomers are going to begin putting a strain on the medical side of our calls," said Medling. "I hate to sound morbid, but until the baby boomers die out, it's going to be difficult."
Mallard asked Medling if parts from one truck can be used in another truck to extend the life of the trucks as much as possible. Medling responded that unfortunately that was not possible because no two brush trucks were alike because they have been built in-house. According to Medling, if the trucks that needed to be replaced were the pumper trucks that would be an option.
"The chief probably needs a truck worse than they need the brush trucks but he declined a truck for himself," said Commissioner Steve Moore, who is also on the fire committee. "He is willing to use his truck until it falls apart."
Friendship Fire Chief Casey Burnett was also in attendance at the meeting. Burnett conducts the annual maintenance on all the Dyer County Fire Department vehicles.
"The brush trucks are low-end, low-dollar trucks," said Burnett. "They are normally used until they fall apart."
"These trucks do a lot of work," continued Burnett. "They save the day a lot of the times."
Commissioner Jim Horner asked Medling why if he was requesting two trucks only enough budget was allocated to purchase one. It was explained that $25,000 of the allocation in the 2012-2013 budget was for the Newbern Fire Department match, which could be carried over into next year's budget. Horner posed the question why the difference could not be taken out of the hospital fund and paid back next year.
"The question for next year is, where does the money come from?" asked Spain. "I'm not 100 percent opposed to the idea of using hospital funds but without some additional revenue, I don't see $85,000 being there when there will be ... $80,000 due on the principle in the spec building next year."
Mallard thanked Medling and as with each presentation explained that the committee was still in an information-gathering stage and would make final determinations when all requests have been turned in.
Medling was followed by a pair of organizations that receive what are classified by the county as contributions. First up was Dr. Karen Bowyer, president at Dyersburg State Community College, who is seeking that the county continue funding the Dyer County Promise Scholarships.
"I know you would like more revenue," noted Bowyer. "I'm in the same boat; I believe the things we do can produce more revenue."
Bowyer explained the great emphasis that Gov. Bill Haslam has placed with his goal that by the year 2025 at least 55 percent of Tennesseans have at least an associate's degree. Bowyer says this goal stems from a lack of skilled and educated employees in the work force. Bowyer commented that she has met with industry executives and their concern is ensuring that they have a variety of skilled employees.
"The help that you provide through the Dyer County Promise Scholarships, helps with that," Bowyer said.
Bowyer was accompanied by Courtney Golden, a Dyer County High School graduate in 2011 and current recipient of the Dyer County Promise Scholarship. Golden explained to commissioners how important the promise scholarship was to her, as she and her husband were married at a young age, and without the scholarship her dream of pursuing a degree to be a K-6 teacher in Dyer County would not be possible.
"I am grateful for the opportunities the scholarships have provided," said Golden.
"We have students that have to work 40 hours a week and when they are unable to keep up with their school work, they drop out," added Bowyer. "This scholarship helps keep the students on track."
DSCC is in the midst of an enrollment boom, according to Bowyer, who said that enrollment in 2011-2012 was up 65 percent making DSCC the fastest-growing institution of higher education in the state. This spring the school will graduate 450 students -- its largest class ever. Bowyer says that she would like to continue to support those students as well as the dual-enrollment high school students who are forced to pay a portion of costs for their college courses because the lottery funds no longer cover the full costs of the course.
Spain commented to the committee that he would like to see the promise scholarships changed from a contribution to a contract if the county was going to continue to support the program.
Bowyer was followed by Dara Gonzales, representing the library. Gonzales, who was navigating her first budget meeting since being appointed as director of library services last year, gave the committee a brief synopsis of where the library stood after moving into its new 17,000-square-foot facility in January. According to Gonzales, utility and wireless demands have increased, as the library is serving more residents now than it did before.
"We have had 1,000 new members in the last three months," acknowledged Gonzales. "The community rooms are receiving plenty of usage. We are doing story times and tours for school kids until the end of the school year. This is something we could not have done in our previous location."
Mallard asked Gonzales to explain the library's revenue sources. Gonzales responded that the library receives a small budget from the state to purchase library materials such as books and periodicals. Gonzales explained that the state budget was increased slightly this year due to the distribution method changing according to population. The library also takes in money from fines from overdue library books and from the printing, copy and fax services it provides. In addition, the library also receives memorials and donations.
Gonzales' prepared budget for the committee reflected an operating budget for the coming year of nearly $400,000. She emphasized that the library was not seeking the entire funds from the county. The county contributed nearly $95,000 to the library this fiscal year with the city of Dyersburg contributing around $110,000.
Dyer County Mayor Richard Hill said that perhaps the library also needed to be separated from the contribution category and treated as a contract.
"If you look at the library as a contribution it will be detrimental," said Don Crews, board member for the library. "When industry comes in, one of the first things they look for is a library. Because of the size of the new library and the extended hours it is going to cost more to operate."
"We know we're going to have to go out and raise more money but we do need more support from you," added Crews.
"Our problem is that our income is the same from year to year unless we raise taxes," commented Mallard, who thanked the library representatives for their presentation and their commitment to the city.
Prior to the committee adjourning, Horner gave a brief review of the information he had gathered at a seminar held on Tuesday for local governments by the County Technical Assistance Service. The seminar discussed the impact of the Affordable Health Care Act on local governments in particular. According to Horner, there are still a lot of unanswered questions because there are still regulations that have not been written for the 1,500-page bill that was signed into law in 2010 and will take effect for Dyer County on July 1, 2014.
"The premiums will go up because the regulations that have been written are so complicated and because there are a lot of hidden fees and taxes written in this law," said Horner. "We (need) to have someone in the county that is trained on ObamaCare regulations. I don't think we can rely on insurance companies.
"Right now we are at the mercy of the government and insurance companies," concluded Horner. "As far as the county is concerned, we are in the dark."
The budget committee will reconvene on Thursday at 8:45 a.m. in the courtroom of the Dyer County Courthouse as Rep. Bill Sanderson will be visiting the committee to discuss challenge areas and how the state can assist local governments.