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Long commissioners avoid legal fight

POSTED: November 12, 2017 5:00 a.m.

A potential lawsuit between the Long County Commission and the county’s constitutional officers has been averted. Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to rescind a provision of their budget resolution that increased their control over the officers’ budgets.
The commissioners write the annual county budgets that provide funds for the operations of other elected officials, such as the sheriff, tax commissioner, clerk of courts, probate judge and magistrate, and others.
Constitutional officers explain to the commissioners what they need for each fiscal year and the commission sets allocations for the county’s annual budget.
But when the commissioners enacted the current budget they included a provision saying that the level of control would be more specific than general allocations for the constitutional officers, like line items.
For example, suppose an official asks for money for new computers to be included in the budget and the commission agrees to put funding for computers into that budget.
The official would be expected to spend that money on computers or to go back to the commissioners and ask that it be reallocated.
The previous system, the one Long County is returning to, allowed a constitutional officer who had money for computers to spend that money on salaries or office supplies or any other category.
Many of the county’s constitutional officers opposed this level of control over their budgets.
The officers threatened to sue the commission over what they consider an illegal encroachment on their authority. The commissioners had held several closed sessions with County Attorney James Smith.
After a closed session Tuesday the commissioners emerged and announced they were giving up the greater level of control on constitutional officers’ budgets.
The commissioners also gave retroactive 96-cent per hour pay raises to three unnamed employees who work for Tax Commissioner Becky Fowler.
The commissioners decided to use a transportation service provided through the Coastal Regional Commission to run the county’s transit operation. CRC Executive Director Allen Burns told the commissioners that they were spending about $100,000 a year for the county-operated transit service but the cost of using the CRC’s contractor would be between $60,000 and $70,000.
The nine other counties in the CRC use the contractor; its name is Transitions.
Burns also gave the commissioners an update on the status of the next round of Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax. The T-SPLOST, if approved by voters, allows one county or a group of counties to set an amount of a sales tax. The T-SPLOST is for five years and the revenue can only be spent on transportation projects like roads and bridges.
The commissioners agreed to plan a T-SPLOST for Long County. An apparent selling point was Chairman Mike Riddle’s pointing out that counties that enact T-SPLOST can match Department of Transportation Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant funds at a rate of 10 percent. Long County is now required to provide a 30 percent match for state LMIG funds.
Long County Sheriff Craig Nobles told the commissioners that many roads had posted speed limits that were incorrect, some speed limits needed changing and some roads had no speed limit signs. The most current list of county roads was from 2005, Nobles said. The commissioners decided to work with the sheriff and their engineer, Trent Long, to get incorrect signs taken down, proper speed limits posted and to consider where speed limits needed changing.
The commission approved purchase of four new cars for the sheriff’s department. The vehicles are in the current county budget.
The next regular meeting of the Long County Commission will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

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