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County passes budget, approves raises

Dallas County approved a raise of up to 4 percent for its employees for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Facing what Probate Judge Kim Ballard called a “terrible financial year” in 2008, the raise was one of the few concessions the county could make in its new budget.

The county commission approved the budget at its meeting this week.

The engineering and road department ate up $5.1 million of the total $18.6 million in total funds for the coming year.

Commission members said they were forced into cutting costs every way they could, and they will almost assuredly have to find more ways to save money.

“We may have to cut services in the road department,” Commissioner Roy Moore said. “There are some things we’re doing now that we can’t continue to do in the future.”

Each of the department’s four districts has more than 100 miles in unpaved roads, and the county had to appropriate $150,000 more in money for fuel than it did last year. Currently, it pays $3.86 for wholesale regular gasoline.

Although a raise for employees has been budgeted, they are not guaranteed to receive the full amount.

“That’s up to the supervisors who do the evaluations,” Ballard said. “If there’s an employee that does not deserve the maximum, I guarantee you they won’t get the maximum. We have not been fortunate enough to give raises every year, and the 4 percent doesn’t even cover the cost of living. So we’re well aware that we’re woefully short, but we’re doing what the budget would let us do.”

Limiting factors came into play while the commission worked to balance the budget over the past few months.

Revenues from both sales tax and gasoline tax have dropped, the latter because people are driving less to offset the cost of prices at the pump.

Ad valorem taxes, taxes based on real estate value, have gone up slightly, said Ballard.

The county also has lost the right to charge taxes from financial institutions.

The Department of Revenue explained in a letter that lending institutions had inadvertently been overcharged, and the state was being threatened with litigation.

The county collected more than $135,000 last year from that source. Ballard said the ADOR will address whether or not the county can begin taxing lending institutions again after the 2010 fiscal year.

“It was not an easy budget to balance,” Ballard said. “We really pinched pennies and let attrition take care of a lot things and did not do a lot of things we wanted to do.”