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story.lead_photo.caption File photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/STACY RYBURN The Washington County Courthouse is seen July 27 in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Washington County is in crisis, Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison said Tuesday as she called for a 2020 budget with no raises and no new employees.

“We’re spending more than we take in,” Harbison said as she opened the discussion of the 2020 budget.

Harbison, of District 14 in southern Washington County, is chairwoman of the Finance and Budget Committee. She said she has set a goal for having at least $3 million in unappropriated reserve at the end of the budget process. She said her initial desire was a $4 million reserve, but the preliminary budget figures taking out raises and cutting 24 new employees requested by elected officials and department heads resulted in the $3 million reserve.

“I know this is bold and I know this will be unpopular,” Harbison said. “Everybody will find reasons not to like this. But I feel we have to make a stand. It’s time to bring the budget under control.”

The committee had its first meeting Tuesday to review proposed budgets from the county judge and county clerk. The budget for County Clerk Becky Lewallen was approved, with some small increases in money for poll workers and overtime due to the presidential election cycle. The budgets for the departments under County Judge Joseph Wood were approved, but with one new position in the Veterans Affairs Department removed.

According to the budget sheet presented by Harbison, the general fund will have about $11 million carried over from the 2019 budget and nearly $30 million in revenue, giving the justices of the peace about $40.9 million in revenue. State law requires the county to set aside 10 percent of its revenue, or about $4 million, leaving about $36.8 million to be budgeted.

The budget sheet presented by Harbison shows $32.2 million in requests, leaving out the new personnel and raises. Another $1.5 million will need to be transferred to the Jail Fund to cover a shortfall in that budget. That would leave the county with the $3 million in unappropriated revenue Harbison is aiming for.

Harbison said the Sheriff’s Office would lose 16 new employees Sheriff Tim Helder has requested. She said other new employees in the Prosecutor’s Office, Public Defender’s Office would also be cut from the budget requests.

Helder didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting and said later he hadn’t been aware Harbison was planning on proposing eliminating raises and new employees. He said he’ll argue against cutting the budget in those ways.

“I think that would be a huge step back to cut raises and new employees,” Helder said. “I think we need to prioritize our employees above all else.”

Harbison asked the other

County budget

Washington County’s justices of the peace will meet again as the Budget Committee on Sept. 12 and Sept. 23 as the Quorum Court continues working on the 2020 budget. The meetings will be at 6 p.m. in the County Courthouse, 280 N. College Ave.

Source: Washington County

Tom Sissom can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWATom.

justices of the peace to study her proposal and be prepared to discuss it Thursday when the committee meets again. A number of justices of the peace raised some objections at Tuesday’s meeting.

Eva Madison of District 9 in Fayetteville said the Quorum Court approved establishing a step-pay plan for some employees of the Sheriff’s Office last year. Eliminating the raises in the step-pay plan would require repealing the ordinance, Madison said.

Sam Duncan of District 7 west of Fayetteville said the Quorum Court shouldn’t micromanage elected officials and department heads as long as they stay within the budget guidelines.

“If a department is able to reduce their budget, I don’t care what they do within that budget,” Duncan said.

Madison said she understands Harbison’s goal of the county live within its means. Madison said past decisions, including a decision to cut the property tax millage, cut into the reserve.

“We have been spending more than we take in in new revenue,” Madison said.

Patrick Deakins of District 5 in northeastern Washington County said the Quorum Court won’t be able to correct the budget imbalance easily.

“If the obvious hasn’t struck you yet, we’re being asked to fix a problem that was a problem long before we got here,” Deakins said. “Get your boots on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Print Headline: JP calls for budget without raises, new employees

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