Seeking to avert a projected shortfall of nearly $1 million which Upshur County Judge Dean Fowler said threatened to shut down the entire county government, a sometimes-testy Upshur County Commissioners Court on Monday approved two budget amendments reducing the current county budget by more than $973,000.
The court said the reductions will cause no layoffs, furloughs, nor salary cuts, and while "It's not a happy situation, it's the best we can do," Fowler said.
The problem came to public light Friday when Fowler said County Auditor Janice Tucker had told him four days earlier that she projected a $995,000 negative fund balance by Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
Fowler said Tucker had not halted spending of funds which weren't directly under the court's control, and that she should have brought the financial situation to the court's attention earlier. She in turn charged she had repeatedly told Fowler the county was having financial problems because of the county budget he was in charge of preparing, and that he was "unwilling to listen" until now.
On Monday, Fowler told The Mirror that Ms. Tucker gave the court "bad numbers" for the 2011-12 fiscal year budget showing a $1.8 million reserve that did not exist. He noted he was not on the court then (because he had been suspended from office for misdemeanor charges, of which he was later cleared).
She in turn denied that charge, said she didn't know where he got the $1.8 million figure, and that the problems began long before the 2011-12 budget.
Meantime on Monday, Pct. 3 Commissioner Frank Berka chastised both Tucker and County Treasurer Myra Harris during a special meeting of the court which was continuing that afternoon after almost four hours in two separate sessions. (Fowler said commissioners were through except for signing some documents). Berka and Mrs. Harris disagreed on whether she gave him certain information.
The court finally approved one amendment authorizing $222,765.10 in certain departmental and non-departmental budget cuts before enacting another amendment stripping $750,967 from the Road and Bridge Department budget.
On Friday, Fowler said he planned to recommend an $800,000 cut in the road and bridge budget which would reduce that department to merely mowing and cutting down dead trees for the rest of the fiscal year. But Road and Bridge administrator Andy Jordan, who discussed the reductions in his department Monday with the court before it voted, said his workers would do more than that.
Jordan said the reduction will affect road "maintenance," but pledged that roadways won't "fall apart."
Joining Pct. 4 Commissioner Mike Spencer in praising Jordan, Pct. 2 Commissioner Cole Hefner said the court didn't like making the budget cuts, but that commissioners "don't have a lot of options."
At the outset of Monday's meeting, Fowler said "over the past several weeks, it has become apparent to me we have a cash problem in our current budget" because "we thought we had reserve funds we didn't have."
He said the court must remove funds from various departments and put them in a "contingency line item." Later in the meeting, he said the court's action Monday will resolve the projected shortfall.
Jim Bowling, who was interim county judge when the 2011-12 budget was approved, told the court Monday he was "disappointed in the reliability of the complicated management information system that I had to rely upon when tasked with proposing" that year's budget.