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August 27, 2013

County passes $19.7 million annual budget

Nearly $2 million higher than previous year, it includes costs such as a projected capital murder trial

RUSK — With  Katherine Pinotti dissenting, the Cherokee County Commissioners Court Monday passed a $19.7 million annual budget – $1.6 million higher than the previous year.

This 2013-2014 budget goes into effect Oct. 1.

Cherokee County Auditor L. H. Crockett said the cost of employee’s health care went up significantly this year from $629 per employee per month to $661.

“You take around 200 employees, add $32 additional a month per employee and multiply it by 12, that’s a significant amount of money,” he said.

It includes additions such as nearly $200,000 for the upcoming capital murder trial of accused killer Jimmy Deshawn Mosley – alleged to have slain Jacksonville city code enforcement officer Stacy Dewayne Hunter Oct. 27, 2012.

Pinotti, Precinct 3 Commissioner, took issue with a number of proposed budgetary items during the meeting but was overruled on all of them by her court colleagues.

Her concerns ranged from additional money she contends is needed by the health department for certain immunizations to “stipends” she said should be paid to certain county officials.

Pinotti said the “stipends” – as she phrased them – were needed because official such as the county attorney don't “get support from the state like many judicial officers do.”

However, the other commissioners opted to wait before putting additional money into immunizations.

They also declined to grant any stipends – the sentiment being that doing so would be tantamount to to raises they had already agreed would not be awarded to elected officials this year.

The funds set aside for the capital murder trial will go into the budget of 2nd District Court Judge Dwight Phifer to be used only to pay those particular costs, Crockett said Monday.

Cherokee County District Attorney Rachel Patton said Monday she did not have an immediate date for that trial. She also declined to discuss any further specifics.

“I cannot comment further on this pending case,” the district attorney said in an email.

Few Cherokee County departments have reduced budgets.

The very small batch that do this year are the V.A. Office, County Court at Law, Mental Health Advocates, and the Health Department. Those reductions are in the amounts of $8,124; $11,648; $4,536; and $55,701, respectively.

The budgets of many other county departments are expanding.

Among the highest such increase are the Sheriff's Department ($175,655); the jail ($95,616); 2nd District Court ($185,626); the General Fund ($794,098); Road and Bridge Undivided ($660,662); Road and Bridge Precinct 2 ($184,719); Road and Bridge Precinct 3 ($145,978); Road and Bridge Precinct 4 ($138,289), airport ($$258,846); General Fund Special ($191,870) and Permanent Improvements,  ($140,660).

Despite the budget increases, Commission-ers plan to maintain the county's tax rate of $.59 cents per $100 valuation. The first public hearing regarding that tax rate is at 10 a.m. Sept. 9, said Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis.

Ultimately, the $87,263 average taxable value of a Cherokee County residence would result in $514.85 in taxes under this tax rate, according to the commissioners court.

In a separate matter, before Monday's meeting started, commissioners noted to longtime audience member Josie Schoolcraft that they had made the sound adjustments she had requested from them in writing earlier this month.

These included having the volume on the microphone set at more intelligible levels, and speaking and enunciating more clearly.

Schoolcraft told commissioners Monday she was satisfied with the sound level and hoped it would continue at future meetings.

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