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Proposed budget has $800,000 deficit

| Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2003

The Fayette County commissioners Monday proposed an $18 million general fund budget with an $800,000 deficit.

Without further cuts, it would require a 7 percent increase in county property taxes to cover the shortfall. That would translate to a $9 increase in property taxes for the average county property owner, for an average bill of $140.

But two commissioners said they'll do as much as possible not to raise taxes, up to and including layoffs.

"We have an obligation to provide mandated services. We don't want to put those services in jeopardy. I'm not saying I won't lay people off, (but) that's my second-to-last alternative," said Commissioner Vincent Vicites.

Vicites said he won't rule out a tax increase, either.

Outgoing commissioners Sean Cavanagh and Ronald Nehls, meanwhile, have taken positions to either side of Vicites, with Cavanagh refusing to increase taxes under any circumstance and Nehls refusing to consider layoffs.

All three proposed separate budgets Monday.

Cavanagh's had a $480,000 deficit and included "more than 20" layoffs, he said.

"I don't believe we're at the bare bones in every office. There is fat in this budget," Cavanagh said.

The proposal, which was not adopted, got an icy reception from county employees around the courthouse.

"Everyone who talks about him, the first two words they say are 'sore loser,'" said Clerk of Courts Janice Snyder.

Nehls' proposal had a higher deficit than Cavanagh's but treated the expected sale of the Great Meadows Amphitheatre mistakenly as general fund revenue.

Nehls and Vicites ended up adopting a proposal close to Vicites' original proposed budget with a $753,000 deficit.

The county has not finished the year with a truly "balanced" budget in six years. For the past five years, the county has either stopped paying bills other than payroll and utilities in October and November.

Snyder said she was dismayed that the commissioners continue to talk of cuts while the employees can't get supplies to do their jobs.

"We, the row officers, don't have a line item for materials and supplies. I had to beg to get a fax cartridge. It's to the point now that we're getting the cheapest of everything, and it just falls apart," she said.

Nehls said he believed a small tax increase would benefit the county.

"It's just responsible fiscal management," he said.

The county is scheduled to adopt a 2004 budget on Dec. 30. By law, it must be balanced.

In other action, the commissioners agreed to pay chief assessor James Hercik's legal bills in a licensure action taken against him.

"I think it's the right thing to do," said county Solicitor Joe Ferens.

The action was brought in 2002 by several individual taxpayers alleging improper assessments. No ruling has been handed down.

Hercik said he and an aide to date have incurred approximately $35,000 in legal expenses defending themselves.

The commissioners also put off hiring a new maintenance manager.

Cavanagh and Nehls could not agree who to hire, and Vicites wanted to wait for the new board to make the decision.

Vicites and Republicans Joe Hardy and Angela Zimmerlink are scheduled to be sworn in on Jan. 5.

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