by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive
The arrival of spring also marks the beginning of budget season for Lawrence County government. Just like the weather we may or may not get this time of year, decisions made during budget season can have far-reaching effects.
I’m glad to say last year’s decisions for our current fiscal year helped create positive change.
A new state grant that covers the cost of our SRO (School Resource Officer) program freed up funds that allowed us to give raises to other Sheriff’s Department officers. Sheriff John Myers confirms the turnover rate has improved as a result.
Prior to the raise, we frequently lost deputies to agencies that paid a few more dollars an hour and people weren’t applying to fill the vacancies. When a deputy left, we also forfeited much of the investment we made in their training, uniforms, and equipment.
We’ve seen the same positive result from raises given to EMS (Emergency Medical Service) personnel in December 2022. We also saw our ambulance service rates – unchanged for about 20 years – were below the minimum Medicare and private insurance will pay. The new rate structure is covering the cost of raises we gave 14 months ago.
EMS is one county agency that should basically support itself through the service it provides. Another is Solid Waste. Commissioners made the very difficult decision to raise your Solid Waste fee this year to cover the increased cost of sending our household garbage to a landfill outside Lawrence County. The Solid Waste fee is the fairest way to cover that cost and keep it off the backs of property owners.
New rates at EMS and Solid Waste mean fewer property tax dollars will go to those departments in the coming fiscal years and we can use the funds where they belong: for law enforcement, schools, and roads. My goal is to never have to raise property taxes, but find more equitable ways to cover the cost of local government.
Commissioners also decided last spring to donate $250,000 to help Lawrence County Fire & Rescue finish the Jason Dickey Memorial Fire Training Center. Many volunteer firemen invested time and money in the project, and I’m so glad we were able to thank them with this donation. We had the financial strength to do it thanks to the fiscal conservatism of T.R. Williams and the Commissioners who served with him. I and your current Commissioners are dedicated to the same path.
Investment at the Jason Dickey Center is also reaping rewards for Lawrence County. Professional and volunteer firemen no longer have to travel to the Tennessee Fire Service Academy in Bell Buckle, Tennessee for state-mandated training. That created hardships for everyone and was a really big ask for volunteers taking time from work and families. This should encourage more people to join our Volunteer Fire Departments, which are hurting for personnel. Lawrence County is also a more convenient training site for firemen through the region, and their tuition will help operate the Center.
Commissioners voted to give $700,000 in 2023-24 toward construction of a new sports complex for Summertown High School. Along with funds from the School System, this will build a football field on acres originally purchased for a new SHS facility. Expansions eased overcrowding at that school, and the eventual relocation of baseball fields and other sports to the new complex will provide space on campus for future classroom additions.
Director of Schools Michael Adkins and I have talked a lot over the past year about Lawrence County’s existing and expected population growth. He will present those needs to the Commission and I promise we will keep both students and taxpayers in mind as we find solutions.
Now, a bit about the budget process. County departments (including the school system) are working now on 2024-25 budget requests, which will be presented to the Budget Committee for consideration. The Nonprofit/Economic Development/Tourism Committee will consider requests related to those areas, and also make a report to the Budget Committee.
Budget Director Brandi Williams and her staff will be crunching all those numbers from now until the final recommendation is ready for the Commission as a whole. I can’t say enough about the great job Brandi has done since she accepted this position early last year. Her staff, including Kelly Odom, who was promoted to Purchasing Agent last year, do exceptional work that keeps Lawrence County on track.
This year I’m adding a little extra pressure to the whole process. My goal is to have a budget ready for the Commission to consider at its regular May session, so we don’t have to call a special session in June to meet the state’s June 30 deadline.
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