Health Department approval expected at Special Session

by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive

I am glad to report that the Commission’s Facilities Committee voted unanimously last Tuesday night to approve the purchase of land for a new Lawrence County Health Department. Now it goes on for approval by the full Commission on June 25, and I am confident this time it will pass.

The whole issue came down to a general misunderstanding about funding for the new facility. 

I could have done a better job of communicating the entire scenario to Commissioners, since the whole process began before I or our newest Commission members were elected.

The land purchase for the Health Department is one of 13 resolutions on next week’s agenda, which may be a record for a Special Session. We have regular meetings every other month, including May and July, so a Special Session is traditionally called to approve the next year’s budget before the state deadline of June 30.

So, after many Budget Committee meetings and untold hours of work by Budget Director Brandi Williams, Lawrence County’s budget for 2024-25 is ready for approval by the full Commission. We can all feel good about it because it doesn’t include a tax increase, provides more for essential services, and approaches spending in a way that maintains a healthy fund balance – what Dave Ramsey would call an “emergency fund.”

Because we spend conservatively, we have some additional funds at the end of this fiscal year to help meet critical needs and remove part of the burden from next year’s budget. The Special Session agenda includes a $189,000 contribution in 2023-24 for updated software and equipment at the E-911 Center, where 911 calls are answered and dispatched to the appropriate emergency service(s). We can’t overstate the role E-911 plays in emergency response, and this is the first additional budget request the agency has made in ten years.

Lawrence County Fire Rescue (LCFR) submitted a request for $938,436 for fiscal year 2024-25. It’s a big ask but reflects the fact that fewer people are serving as volunteer firemen. This will help those who do have a heart to help people in emergencies not spend so much precious time fundraising to support that work. This fact is not stressed enough: your house insurance premium is lower because you have a volunteer fire department that serves your area. It’s safe to say the majority of Lawrence County homeowners get a LOT more benefit from their VFD than they realize.

Again, we are able to take some of the burden off our new budget. Commissioners will be asked on June 25 to approve a $525,936 contribution to LCFR now, and $412,500 from the 2024-25 budget.

Another resolution on the June 25th agenda starts the process of borrowing $20,805,000 in General Obligation Bonds. Six million will go to our Highway Department for road improvements throughout the county. Twelve million will be set aside for the expansion of school buildings we know will be necessary in the near future. The rest will be used to make

needed improvements in county buildings, help establish permanent convenience centers for trash and recyclable disposal, and other capital projects that are not part of the regular budget. The Lawrence County School Board has agreed to pay their portion of debt payments for the next two years to help our debt service fund stay in a healthy condition.

I realize the idea of borrowing money when we are in a healthy financial position sounds counterintuitive, but the county’s funds aren’t in one big account that we can pull from for any purpose. Separate funds are established for every department, and separate line items for each type of expense that department has. Rules regarding county government spending are very specific and the State Comptroller’s Office makes sure we account for every penny. Rest assured that we are careful and conservative with your dollars.

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