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County to PCI: We’ll wait

Commission OKs budget; cuts legal fees

While approving a balanced budget Monday, the Escambia County Commission rescinded its plans to ask the Poarch Band of Indians for help in bolstering the county coffers.

For weeks, commissioners have held heated discussions over legal fees for the tax assessor’s office needed to fight a suit filed by Poarch concerning the taxation of tribal property. In the first proposed budget, Tax Assessor Jim Hildreth asked for $110,000 to defend his office. The same budget also calls for a 30 percent reduction in outside agency funding. In the budget approved Monday, those fees were set at $45,000.

“I still don’t understand the reasoning behind cutting the legal fees,” Hildreth said after the vote. “In the long run, this suit isn’t going to cost the county one penny. I hope you realize that those fees are funded with 9 percent of general fund money.”

Previously, commissioners discussed asking the Tribe to allow the commission to use a promised $500,000 for pet road projects in the general fund instead. Chairman David Stokes ended the meeting stating a letter would be ready for the commissioners to sign at Monday’s meeting. That discussion was tabled for a later date with Stokes casting the lone “no” vote.

Previously, Sheriff Grover Smith stated because of a $65,000 loss in grant funding for the 21st Circuit Judicial Drug Task Force and the county’s overall financial state, he planned to ask the Tribe to assist with funding the salaries of the two deputies.

On Monday, commissioners announced a plan to move line item funding to cover the cost of the deputies.

“I move that we place $65,000 from the (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) project line to offset the revenue needed to fully fund the two officers,” Commissioner Larry White said.

County Administrator Tony Sanks said the county is set to receive additional federal funding for county clean up projects, which allowed for the funding for the deputies to be paid by the general fund.

In other business, the commission:

• approved the Escambia County Area Transit System contract with the Agency on Aging;

• appointed Probate Judge Doug Agerton to the Southwest Alabama Behavioral Health Care Systems Board;

• changed the county shop foreman position classification from a 10 to a 13, which increased the starting salary to $15.80 per hour. Commissioners Raymond Wiggins and Brandon Smith voted against the move, claiming they believed it would hurt employee morale since the starting pay was set at more than that of 95 percent of all county employees.