JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The budget is the primary focus for Craighead County officials. It's that time of year when county's have to address the tough issues. Will there be budget cuts? And how are things shaping up in Craighead County? The budget committee met Monday night to start hashing out the expenses.
"We're just looking to break even with last year. I really thought the economy would be better and pick up, but it's just not doing it," said Craighead County Judge Ed Hill. Hill has spent the past week really cracking down on the 2012 budget. And from the looks of it, it's going to be tough year.
"The cost of services is higher and the amount of money coming in is about the same, and I'm hoping we're not going to have to make any cuts," said Hill.
And the county's largest expense is one they can't do with out. "The Road Department and Sheriff's Department, fuel is a big item in the budget. You know, we use to budget 3 to 4 hundred thousand for the Road Department. I think it's almost 600-thousand now. And if fuel continues to rise, we're going to have to cut in other spots," said Hill.
But Judge Hill's biggest concern is insurance. "They're wanting about a 16-percent increase on the insurance. It goes up every year and we're negotiating with them. We have another meeting with them at nine in the morning. The retirement's going up. Everything is going up," said Hill.
Hill says he was hoping for a small raise for county employees, but says they might not be able to afford it. "Until we get the insurance settled and these requests in we're not sure of anything at this point," said Hill.
And if the county can't get a better deal on the insurance rates, it could end up the shoulders of county employees.
Monday night, the budget committee met to hammer down the numbers and sit down with some of the different department heads regarding their, "want list", or budget requests.
"Work them and figure out what we can live with and they can live with. See how legitimate the request really are. The departments and the committee will hash it out and see what they can come up with," said Hill.
And even though times are tight, Hill says they will have a balanced budget. "We're going to be conservative until the economy gets better. I know the Sheriff's Department could use a few more cars or men. The Road Department could use more equipment, this and that. But we're not going to spend money we don't have," said Hill.
Hill says the budget committee will meet with a few other departments Tuesday and hopes to have the budget finalized early December.