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Another year, another budget.
The Baxter County Budget Committee met Thursday afternoon to review the proposed 2024 budget for Baxter County and its various departments. If approved by the Baxter County Quorum Court, the 2024 budget would come in at $28,606,008.15, with an expected revenue stream of $39,797,102.57.
Roughly $11,191,094 of the county’s expected income would be unbudgeted for the year. Under Arkansas law, county officials are required to stay within their yearly budget, which runs from Jan.1 to Dec. 31.
According to state law, a budget is based on projected revenues expected to come in over a 12-month period. Budgets are not based on “cash in the bank.” State law also imposes a 90% budget cap on county budgets, though there are some exceptions to the rule.
The budget is expected to be approved in December. It should be noted that the county is still working on updates to its budget and all numbers mentioned in this story are in draft status and not final.
What’s changing next year?
A look at the Baxter County Digital Budget Book reveals that several departments in the county are going to be requesting budget increases to onboard new personnel or equipment. The Baxter County Sheriff’s Office continues to be the county’s number one expenditure.
The county’s general fund is also expected to grow next with a projected revenue of $13.57 million, which represents a 19.9% increase over the prior year. Budget expenditures are projected to increase by 49.5% or $4.07 million to $12.29 million in FY2024.
Cash receipts will make up 59.9% of FY2024’s projected income, with Tax Apportionment-Distribution following up at 29.1%.
For the county’s total budget, the sheriff’s office and jail will take up much of the budget at 33.3%, with the county buildings budget following behind at 8.9%. Juvenile services comes in at 7.6%.
All of the county’s fire departments will only receive 1.1% of the FY2024 budget.
What departments are getting budget increases?
While some of the county’s budgets, like the Quorum Court, the County Coroner, and the Board of Equalization are getting cuts, many budgets are receiving substantial raises.
The highest budget increase for next year will go towards the Sheriff and Jail budget, which is set to increase by 1,046% over last year’s budget. The massive increase in the budget was expected by members of the county’s Budget Committee and was said to be due to moving things around in the county budget.
A similar budget increase occurred with the County Maintenance Shop, which received a 102% budget increase due to the county transferring its mechanics to another department. The Road and Bridge budget has exceeded its budget over the last few years due to high fuel prices and inflation, and the transfer is an attempt to get the budget back in line. Baxter County Treasurer Jenay Mize said the county’s general budget will most likely have to supplement the county’s road budget again this year.
During the meeting, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery also suggested raising the county’s general liability insurance to help further cover lawsuits that could arise at the county jail. While Montgomery noted that the insurance would cover lawsuits for the whole county, most of the coverage would go toward the jail.
Montgomery said his office is currently dealing with four or five lawsuits and that while payouts aren’t usually that large, a recent settlement cost the county a large sum of undisclosed money.
Other budgets that are set to see increases this year include the Baxter County Election Commission budget with a 232% budget increase that is fueled by the state-mandated purchase of new electronic polling books. The Clerk’s Office will also receive a budget increase of 25.8%, and the Treasurer’s Department will see a 14.2% increase.
These increases come from new hires.
The Office of Emergency Management will receive a 30.1% budget increase to supplement the purchase of a new vehicle. Baxter County OEM Director David Stults said the new vehicle is needed to haul the county’s emergency water tank, and that his department would be giving a Jeep to the Assessor’s Office to help with their budget.
The Assessor’s Office will have a budget increase of 10.9%. The county’s recycling budget is also expected to rise by 55.2%.
While there are some big increases across the board, some budgets are effectively getting slashed. The Board of Equalization’s budget is set to be slashed by 95.1%, and the Baxter County Waterworks Facility budget will be completely slashed by a full 100%.
The County Coroner will see his budget decreased by 31.7%.
Debate over the Public Defender’s Office
During Thursday’s budget meeting, a representative for Public Defender Dan Hancock requested that the county fund a full-time secretary position for his office for next year.
Hancock made a similar pitch to Baxter County last year, with Justice of the Peace Dirk Waldrop agreeing to the request on the condition that it would be only for one year. Under state law, public defenders are supposed to be paid out of the state’s annual budget. Hancock promised to work with the state to get funding following the agreement with Baxter County.
Hancock’s representative said Baxter County is technically a part of the state during the meeting.
While county officials agreed to the first funding, the second request drew their ire during Thursday’s meeting, with many department heads and county officials noting that the request for another round of funding would most likely not make it past Waldrop, who oversees the county’s Personnel Committee.
Hancock’s representative argued that while his clients are usually not voting constituents due to their crimes, having the 14th district’s public defender’s office be overrun with paperwork was not good for the county’s courts. There are two secretaries currently working in the office for Hancock.
Baxter County HR Director Vance Jones noted that the current secretary who was hired through the county’s original agreement is not working full-time hours.
Baxter County Justice of the Peace Cameron Davis said the Quorum Court does need to hear from Hancock’s Office on the issue, but that it would be an uphill climb to get its members to approve the request for another year.