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County eyes $41 million budget
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Liberty County officials are working their way through $41 million in 2021 budget requests for county departments and constitutional officers. The county’s 2021 fiscal year begins July 1 and the regular commission meeting scheduled for June 2 will likely see adoption of the new budget.

The commission is required to hold at least one public hearing before approving the budget. Public hearings are problematic while social distancing is in effect because of the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

The commissioners are holding their meetings by teleconference and making them available on Facebook rather than meeting in person. It is not clear how this would be handled when a public hearing is required.

The $41 million in budget requests is $8.7 million more than the current 2020 budget which is $32.6 million.

Much of the county’s budget is in salary and other personnel costs. Commissioners try to hold the line on increased spending--especially with revenue uncertain because of the coronus virus crisis--but usually fund most items considered public safety expenses.

A big personnel request for 2021 is for fire protection; more than $1 million for 18 full-time firefighters. This is part of the county’s long term goal of countywide fire protection with full-time professional firefighters as well as new fire stations.

Most other personnel requests are from the sheriff’s office: $209,000 for four full-time jailers, $116,000 for two courthouse deputies and the same amount for two civil process deputies, and others.

Vehicles are a big-ticket item with a total $1.5 million requested for cars, SUVs and trucks. The request from the sheriff’s department includes 16 vehicles  and several other units have requested vehicles; a ladder truck for fire services is estimated at $400,000.

The county road department frequently uses lease-purchase agreements for vehicles and other equipment. Excavators, tractors, mowers and three dump trucks are requested with relatively low annual costs for five-year leases.

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