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Agencies are preparing for budget crunch

By By BILL CRIST Publisher
When legislators meet in Montgomery on Monday in a special session to finalize the coming fiscal year's budget, they will be presented with a proposal that includes previous year revenue projections, as well as 100 percent cuts in some agencies.
County Administrator Tony Sanks was unsure how the budget crunch would affect Escambia County.
And unlike schools, which can look to the state board of education for a heads-up on budgeting issues, no single agency coordinates funding for counties at the state level.
According to published reports, Riley will propose across the board cuts that will have a wide ranging impact.
Although the budget has not yet been written, several state agencies are already planning ahead.
Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer, said, that the Alabama Department of Public Health is planning reductions based on projections provided by the State Finance Director's office.
Among the cuts Williamson said will take place are a reduction in the frequency of food service establishment inspections from once every three months to once every four months; an increase in the time required to approve septic tank permits and installations which will delay completion of new home construction. and that Influenza vaccine will not be provided to county health departments for the 2004-2005 flu season. Influenza vaccine will be available for the 2003-2004 season. This will affect over 200,000 citizens who formerly received the vaccine.
The Dept. of Corrections is one state agency that will actually see an increase in funds. Next year the deptartment will receive an additional $16 million in state funds, although over 5,000 prisoners will be released from the prison system through early parole programs. Riley's budget proposes to bring all state prisoners that are housed out-of-state be brought back to Alabama to be put into prison here or paroled.
The Forestry Commission will see funds cut by 18 percent if Riley's plan passes through the legislature. That will mean a $1.9 million cut in funds for the coming year.
Several museums and non-state agencies are expected to lose all state funding.
Riley's budget calls for savings of $21 million through the elimination of what is commonly referred to as "pass through pork." Partial cuts to agencies will result in another $56.4 million in savings, while agencies that lose all state funding will result in a $16.8 million savings to the general fund.
If passed, the education trust fund will also be budgeted based on prior year's revenue. Many agencies will be cut by 10 percent although several agencies and entities, such as the Arts Council-Community Arts and Cultural Program will lose all state funding.
By state law, the legislature must approve a balanced budget prior the fiscal year beginning, or government must shut down. The state's fiscal year begins on October 1.
Escambia County will vote on a 10-mill property tax increase for education in December.
Connie Nowlin contributed to this story.