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County looks to stretch budget

BY CORIANNE EGANcegan@paducahsun.com

At the beginning of Thursday night's McCracken Fiscal Court budget work session, the county faced a deficit of about $1,200. Nearly 90 minutes later, that number had ballooned significantly.

County officials are still hammering out the details of McCracken's 2014-15 budget, but three major funding unknowns are holding the process back: the future of the McCracken County Animal Shelter, the bottom line of requests for the county's portion of E-911 funding, and the amount it would take to fix roads damaged by harsh weather this winter. The county still has just over a month to balance its fiscal year budget.

In 2011, the county was paying the McCracken County Humane Society $20,000 per year to house animal control pickups. After severing that contract and starting its own shelter, the county's animal shelter budget has inflated to about $320,000. A task force selected earlier this year is evaluating cost-saving measures, and is also considering the need for a new building, which could cost an estimated $1.1 million.

The county is also dealing with an unknown amount of capital improvements to the city-county Emergency Communications Center. Last month, a consultant report noted major changes needed at the facility. Those changes could cost the county an extra $100,000 - on top of its annual commitment of $375,000. The center will also have to upgrade its phone system in the coming year - tech companies will no longer service it starting in October - at an estimated cost  of $500,000.

An extremely rough winter left McCracken County roads with cracks and potholes, as well. Judge-Executive Van Newberry said he will have those numbers in the coming weeks.

On top of that, the county heard several telephone and date processing capital projects that are imminently important. Upgrading and replacing the county's 71 computers that are still working on the no-longer-supported Windows XP was a major priority. The McCracken County Sheriff's Department also is using in-car computers that are no longer serviceable. Replacing the Toughbooks with tablet systems would save money, but still comes with a total price tag of about $78,600.

It was also recommended that the county update its e-mail exchange - something the Fiscal Court has delayed for two years - at a price of $25,000. Adding to that total, the county has no backup for its systems in case of a natural disaster. Purchasing 4G backup systems could cost about $6,000. The total for those projects could amount to $152,600.

County commissioners have repeatedly said they would not raise taxes.

To get more information and finalize the budget process, Newberry said, he plans to ask the city for line item budgets for the E-911 center in the coming week. Thursday's workshop was continued until 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the McCracken County Courthouse.

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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