By GREG MAST

Herald Senior Writer 

One of the most important aspects of a county commissioner is going through the budget process each year. 

The budget sets parameters for spending and taxes for the upcoming year. For Franklin County, the budget process has been smoother the past couple of years.

Rick Howard, commission chair, who has been on the board since 2013, said all the departments work together to come up with a tax-payer friendly budget.

“They all understand our administrator is really big on trying to keep the budget as flat as possible,” Howard said. “There is a lot of things they are giving up, things they would like to have. They understand our goals to stay close to flat as we can. They have really bent over backwards to do that.”

The county commissioners Wednesday approved the 2020 budget of 62.160 mills, which is down from the 2019 levy of 62.82.

“The last couple of years we have been moving in the right direction,” Howard said. “Our administrator and clerk/finance officer are doing a great job. The department heads the last couple of years have really been onboard with what we are trying to do. We are trying to get into position to pay some of the debt down and also to work on our buildings. The past few years, they were put aside. We are trying to put money back to take care of our buildings. It is an excellent budget.”

Derek Brown, county administrator/counselor, said county departments heads, elected officials, himself and Janet Paddock, county clerk/finance officer, have worked on this budget since February.

“This is the culmination of it,” Brown said before the vote. “At this point, this is a formality. We have gone through every line of this budget with the department heads and elected officials. That is how we come up with a budget to bring to you in the first place. We go through every line of it with you at our budget study sessions. There are no real differences of what we presented there and what is in front of you.”

Howard said the process of going through each line several times is different than years past.

“For the ones that have been here quite awhile, we can see a big difference in how the budget was handled compared to some of the years,” Howard said. “We sit down with all of them and go over their budget and talk about the different ways we can trim something. This year, there was not much that we had to try to trim because they were so good of taking care of it. The people we are working with are excellent. It makes doing this a lot easier.

“Derek and Janet put a lot of time into it. There are a lot of hours [spent] and work bringing it together. We have been over this numerous times. Everyone’s been through it. We are pretty happy with the way the process [went] and the budget for 2020.”

Paddock told the commissioners this budget would help meet the goals the county set.

“This budget we are presenting [Wednesday] is a decrease of .675 mills,” she said. “That is great to offer tax relief to our citizens. We are increasing the reserves slightly as we discussed on multiple occasions with you guys. We are doing that in an effort to do long-needed projects to our buildings. We did the HVAC in the jail facility last year. We have some other projects we will be bringing to you later this year that we are going to be looking at. We would like to get to a position where we can pay off some of our debt. We have issued debt this year and last year [for Proximity Park and new communications system]. People see that we are issuing a debt and think that is a concern. Our overall debt is only 4.5 percent of our budget. When you think from a household budget standpoint, 4.5 percent is not very much. We are working with our finance advisor on ways we can pay that debt off.”

Howard said working under the tax lid and still cutting the mill levy is something that is not being accomplished across the state.

“They have done a great job of dealing with the tax lid,” Howard said. “The tax lid did not do us a lot of favors. So far, we have been able to work under it and improve each year.”

Howard said each department has worked hard to make cuts in some areas, while others continue to increase.

“There are some things that you can’t keep from going up like health insurance,” Howard said. “Some of that is going to go up no matter what we try to do. Salaries are going to go up with the raises we try to give. That are two of the big things we can’t keep flat.”