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COUNTY COMMISSION: Budget and millage rate adopted

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

The Board of Madison County Commissioners have passed a balanced budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017-2018.

During a special public hearing on the tentative millage rate and final budget for FY2017-2018 on Wednesday, Sept. 27, the Commissioners adopted the budget for the county for the next year. According to a recap of the budget total revenues from Ad Valorem (property) taxes and other sources total $10,334,720. The budget also includes $1,842,766 for solid waste and $601,571 for fire services. The solid waste and fire services figures reflect the newly passed assessment increases.

The top allowable millage rate of 10 mills was also adopted. One mill is equal to one dollar of Ad Valorem taxes per $1,000 worth of taxable property value. For example, if a home has a taxable value of $100,000; that property owner's tax bill would be $1,000 (10 mills x 100).

During the meeting, Madison County Clerk of the Court Billy Washington informed the Board that the legislature had authorized pay increases for all elected officials. Some chose to take the pay raises, others did not. This caused an extra expenditure of approximately $12,000. Washington reminded the Board this would be a recurring cost to be paid out of non-recurring funds.

Following the special hearing and vote on the millage rate and budget, the Commissioners went on to conduct their regular meeting.

During public comments, Kim Albritton, from the Madison County Health Department, publicly thanked several people and County Departments for their work during the recent hurricane; specifically Brian Kauffman, County Coordinator; Alan Whigham, Madison County Emergency Management Director; School Superintendent Dr. Karen Pickles and the Madison County School Board and the local Emergency Medical Services Department.

Madison County Sheriff Ben Stewart addressed the Board thanking them for their service and expressing his gratitude that the County has never had to lay off employees. Stewart then informed the Board that his department was over-budget in the amount of approximately $35,000 because of inmate medical costs and the cost of inmate food at the County Jail. Stewart said he had budgeted $123,000 for inmate medical expenses, which included a full-time nurse. “[These costs] add up when you have extra inmates,” said Stewart. “We don't have the authority to release inmates, only the courts have the authority to release inmates.” One practice that has put a strain on local resources is when inmates within the Department of Corrections commit crimes and are then placed in the County Jail. Stewart said he would make a point to question Rep. Beshears and Sen. Montford about that when they come to Madison for the local Legislative Delegation meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 17. The Commissioners voted to fund the Sheriff's budget shortfall out of fiscally constrained funds. Stewart added his praise to the local efforts during Hurricane Irma. “I don't think it could have worked any better,” said Stewart.

The Commissioners approved a short consent agenda, including a resolution authorizing the execution of a county emergency medical services grant, and a contract between Madison County and the State of Florida Department of Health for the operation of the Madison County Health Department for the FY2017-2018.

The Commissioners considered a request from a member of the Greenville Volunteer Fire Department (Kovacherich “Shorty” Arnold) to rent four golf carts from the County at a rate of $95 each to be used during an event in Greenville. The carts would be used to distribute fire alarms to Greenville residents. It was questioned whether or not the person making the request was authorized to make the request. Commissioner Wayne Vickers said requests such as this should come through the Fire Board. The Commissioners voted to deny the request, but would consider a request from the proper authority (Fire Chief). After consulting with the Fire Chief during a recess, the Commissioners learned that fire assessment funds cannot be used to rent golf carts. No further action was taken.

The Commissioners then heard from Madison County Emergency Management Director Alan Whigham, Road Department Director Lonnie Thigpen and Solid Waste Department Director Jerome Wyche with an update on Hurricane Irma. Whigham started by saying there would be an “after action” staff meeting of people from about 20 different agencies on Thursday, Sept. 28 to discuss storm-related matters and ways improvements can be made. A report of those findings will be released at a later date. On Tuesday, Sept. 5 a Level II emergency was designated. The Emergency Management Department was participating in two webinars per day with the State and the National Weather Service. On Friday, Sept. 8, the Red Cross and New Testament Christian Center was opened as a “host shelter” in order to accommodate travelers who had become stranded during the storm. On Saturday, Sept. 9, the Emergency Operations Center was opened and the emergency level was raised to Level I (the highest level). On Tuesday, Sept. 12, the County entered into the recovery phase, and the emergency level was lowered to Level II. Later in the week, the emergency level was lowered again to Level III. Three houses in Madison County suffered major damage. Overall, Whigham was pleased with the work everyone did before, during and after the storm. “It's a whole team,” said Whigham. “We learned things during [Hurricane] Hermine, and we put it into play.” Thigpen told the Commissioners that his department did as much clean-up as possible before the storm in order to be able to handle the clean-up task he knew was coming after the storm. His department stood ready to go into action, clearing roadways, as soon as it was safe to do so. Road debris is still in the process of being cleaned. Road construction projects on Hickory Grove and the bridge were not hampered by the storm. Wyche informed the Commissioners that as of Friday, Sept. 22, 56 loads of yard debris have been hauled from the collection centers. “To accommodate the citizens in their efforts to clean up, Collection Center Attendants have been advised not to turn anyone away from disposing of yard trash and other storm debri,” said Wyche in a prepared statement.

During the storm, Madison Fire Rescue Chief Bruce Jordan served as a Fire Coordinator, coordinating actions of all the various volunteer fire departments. Members of these departments were instrumental in helping to get debris cleared from roadways. It was acknowledged that having a coordinator greatly increased effectiveness during the storm. Adding a full-time Fire Coordinator was one of the key factors in increasing the fire assessment by the Commissioners.

The next meeting of the Board of Madison County Commissioners will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 11, at 9 a.m. in the Board meeting room at 229 SW Pinckney St., in Madison.

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