By Fred Woods
Last week the Lee County Commission approved a total FY2017 budget of $39.8 million, 0.9 percent less than last year. The more important overall operations budget is $37,191,250 compared to last year’s $35,615,422. This represents the second straight year of 4.4 percent growth in this budget. Funding for the operations budget is based on revenue estimates, which means Lee County is getting to the five percent annual revenue growth rate required for sustainability of current services, according to county administrator Roger Rendleman. Rendleman says to expand county services the revenue growth rate would need to be in the seven to eight percent range.
The budget includes merit raises for county employees for the first time in three years and only the second time in the last eight years. A position of Recycling Facilities Manager is added for the new Recycling Facility and three positions are added to highway crews.
The operational section of the budget is up slightly due to growth in “Contracted Services,” due to the county’s new Spay and Neuter program ($45,000) and the Appraisal Department’s joint aerial photography program with Auburn and Opelika ($175,000).
The only real controversy regarding the budget was in the outside agency funding portion where the appropriation for the Lee County Historical Society was cut by almost $7,000 (73 percent) and the Horseshoe Bend Library was reduced by $15,000 (36 percent), primarily to fund a large increase to the Family Enrichment Center in Loachapoka.
The Lee County Historical Society/Museum reduction puts it at the same funding level of the Museum of East Alabama. The Horshoe Bend Library reduction was based on lack of evidence that the library provided any significant benefits to Lee County residents.
On the other hand, the Family Enrichment Center presented a classic case of how to make a case for county financial support. The center, organized by the Mount Zion Baptist Church of Loachapoka as a separate Section 501(3) (c) organization to enable it to receive public funds, offers an extensive, full-time program of summer and after-school camping, mentoring and recreational activities for young people in western Lee County as well as a range of programs for the elderly, including hot meals at least twice a week. Over the past several months, numerous representatives of the center, including young people participating in center programs, have appeared before the commission reporting on center activities and benefits.
The Family Enrichment Center is the only agency in the entire western portion of Lee County offering any organized services to youth and the elderly. Other churches and agencies should take note.
In other action, the commission
* held the first reading (nomination) for three vacancies on the Lee County Recreation Board : Alice Buchanan (Loachapoka), Steven Holley (Loachapoka) and John Johnson (Smiths Station),
* heard a presentation by representatives of SOKO, a health fair event management group which offers testing procedures for such basic health issues as allergies, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Costs of these procedures are generally covered by health insurance. Consideration will be given to securing allergy testing by SOKO at the employees’ health fair scheduled for later this month.
* approved lounge or retail liquor licenses for several establishments in Districts 3 and 4 and
* approved, at the request of Mr. Rendleman, necessary budget adjustments for the Courthouse Annex Project.