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2013 county budget gets panel OK

There were some tense moments Monday night as the Van Buren County Quorum Court budget committee considered a couple of issues before approving its preliminary budget for 2013.

Members of the committee, appointed by County Judge Roger Hooper, are Chairman Dale James, Shannon Deckard, Richard Collins, Dell Holt and James Kirkendoll.

First to address the panel was Assessor Trina Jones. She asked for an additional employee, saying that her office will be overwhelmed in 2013 as 150 to 200 new wells are expected to be drilled in Van Buren County.

She said her office has to go over mineral rights on every parcel of land as well as other duties including real estate and personal property taxes. Jones said information on parcels changes constantly as landowners add others and split parcels.

“I don’t ask for money unless I’m really really concerned,” Jones said.

Kirkendoll said he would support a part-time employee while Deckard and Holt suggested Jones cross-train employees.

Holt described the county budget as in “a crunch” and said, “We have to pinch pennies everywhere we can.”

Kirkendoll’s motion to add a part-timer died for lack of a second.

Next the committee turned its attention to the newly split clerk’s office, held by Ester Bass. Last month voters favored dividing the clerk’s office into two: a circuit clerk’s office and a county clerk’s office. Now, the Quorum Court is trying to figure out how to pay for it.

“I have to ask the question,” James said. Since the offices have split and his workload has decreased, “should your salary be reduced?”

“You can’t do that,” an obviously stunned Bass responded.

Kirkendoll agreed with Bass, but James said that the Quorum Court could as long as it was not done during a current term.

“After 12 years of service you would do me like this?” Bass said.

Bass said the county was in better shape financially than it was when he took office and warned the JPs. “If you do this, you better know what you’re doing because I will challenge this.”

Deckard said some of the improvements in the office were due to modern technology, and James noted it was a decrease in responsibilities.

“Just vote on it,” Kirkendoll said. “I’m against it.”

Collins said he was not for splitting the office and knew it would end up costing the county more money.

“But it was passed and I think people knew it would cost more,” he said.

Holt said the Quorum Court should have given the cost more thought earlier, but he said, “It’s wrong to take his money now.”

No one made a motion for the salary reduction.

The panel voted unanimously to submit its preliminary budget to the full Quorum Court at its next regular meeting, which will be 7 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Courthouse Annex.

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