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Monday, March 27, the Ringgold County Board of Supervisors met in regular session.
At 11 a.m., the Board of Supervisors met with the Ringgold County Conservation Board in a budget workshop.
The Board of Supervisors in attendance were Steve Knapp, Randy Taylor and Colby Holmes.
Ringgold County Auditor, Amanda Waske, was also in attendance.
Dale Walkup, Doug Frost and Randy Bishop attended on behalf of the Ringgold County Conservation Board.
Joyce Frost, John Overholser and Tracee Knapp were also in attendance.
The Board of Supervisors are asking the Conservation Board to cut $40,000 from their proposed FY24 budget of $334,650. The cut would put the Conservation budget at $294,650, up from FY23 budget of $268,457.
The FY24 conservation budget would increase by $26,193.
The conservation board stated they needed every dollar they asked for, specifically for a second full-time employee, while also looking for a new executive director and trying to maintain the department and take care of unexpected issues when they arise.
“We have a list of stuff we need to do that we haven’t even put in the budget yet,” said Randy Bishop. “We got down to what expenses we think are coming. Rumor is you’re wanting to cut our proposed budget $40,000 and my question to you is where are we supposed to take that $40,000 from?”
Walkup added that he would like to know how they arrived that number.
Bishop went on to express that the Conservation Board has multiple areas that need fixed such as the bridge on the nature trail which had an estimated cost of $18,000, fence along the nature trail and the executive director’s truck that is a 2011 model with over 160,000 miles and Fife’s Grove restroom that was estimated at $5,000.
“The bridge needs done at the trailway, water lines that need fixed and fencing the trailway, we need to do some of that,” said Bishop. “These are things that aren’t even listed in our budget but we are going to have to be doing it. We thought we narrowed it down as far as we can.”
Supervisor Randy Taylor asked about the fencing along the trailway, wondering if the landowners could help foot the cost.
The Conservation Board mentioned that when the railroad owned the trailway they were responsible for the fences, a responsibility that was inherited by the Conservation Board when they assumed possession.
Doug Frost mentioned looking for a new director and the possibility of the next director also being a law enforcement certified ranger.
“Before we hadn’t hired people that were not rangers and with the drug problem and things that are going on is that something we should be looking into?” said Frost. “If we hire someone that has not been to the academy there is an expense to that.”
Supervisor Holmes stated he didn’t believe that the conservation board would need a law enforcement certified ranger.
“I wouldn’t think you’d need to but that’s your guys deal I guess,” said Holmes. “I’d like to think our county can provide enough.”
Walkup moved the conversation back to the proposed cut, asking how they came up with their number.
Supervisor Knapp confirmed that the Conservation Board wanted to hire a number full-time employee with the funds.
The Conservation Board discussed that they are the only county around with only one full-time employee, while other similar counties such as Taylor and Decatur have multiple employees, but haven’t done near what Ringgold County Conservation has achieved.
Knapp talked about the first time they met about a part-time employee to which the Board of Supervisors funded that position and that the Conservation Board found something else to spend the money on after that employee left the position.
“You found something more important to use it on because it all got spent.” said Knapp.
Frost stated that the budget has always been short and had to move that money to another project, but that it doesn’t mean they haven’t tried.
Frost would add that the part-time employee did find other employment but has stayed on to help when they could and those funds are still going towards an employee while also being used for other projects in the county.
“We did not have another opportunity to find another employee. It’s not that we didn’t try,” said Frost. “Now we have to find someone to fill our director spot.”
The conversation was then steered toward seasonal pay, in which the conservation board is maxed out at $15 per hour at their highest, while secondary roads seasonals are paid over $19 per hour.
Knapp stated he was in favor of getting the Conservation seasonal employees even with the rest of the county seasonal employees.
“I’ll be honest, we haven’t talked about this at all, but your part-time needs brought up to snuff,” said Knapp. “I’d be more than willing to give extra money for that to catch them up, but that’s just me.”
“With our job we have to look at all the different departments and when you are faced with limited growth in our county you’ll hear it forever,” said Holmes. “It’s very serious and tough to do.”
Frost asked the supervisors how many departments are being asked to reduce their budget to which Knapp stated he was unprepared to talk about other departments.
“I just want to know where we fall in line.” said Frost.
“I don’t have the paperwork infront of me but we’ve been through them.” said Knapp.
Bishop said he understands the challenge the supervisors face, but is trying to keep the conservation department running at a high level and bringing money into the county.
“I understand you have X amount of dollars and it’s not growing very good,” said Bishop. “But part of what we are doing is surely bringing money into this county, coming to camp, spending money at restaraunts, maybe buy a car, fill up with gas, so I don’t think what we are doing is hurting the economy at all.”
“I think you guys must think I’m feeding you a line of crap but I’m not,” said Holmes. “I think our parks are second to none.”
“You think it’s a good idea for us to have a second full-time employee, but how are we going to get it unless we have the money.” said Bishop.
“If we did, we’d have to take it out of our operational side, which is already less than what we need,” added Walkup.
Frost added that $40,000 was a lot to take out of a budget of their size which totals just over $300,000.
“The stuff looks good guys, but clear back to our very first meeting, I asked how much was enough,” said Holmes. “When I get into my job I have to figure out, ya know, the more you do, the more you do, the more you do, it costs and down the road it’s going to cost and some day the Nature Center is going to cost significantly when we have to put new windows in, but it will happen, it’s inevitable. Grants are great but the county taxpayer has to pay for all the maintenance of them. It just costs more and more all the time.”
Walkup asked Holmes if his solution was to do nothing.
“No, I’m saying fix up the stuff we got and keep what we have and not keep aiming for the sky,” said Holmes. “There’s lots of other departments that are operating at a bare minimum with less people than there ever has been before and there’s not extra money in there and everyone is trying to get by. This budget is tough.”
Walkup asked if other departments are looking into grants that could help alleviate the financial burden on the county.
Holmes was unsure of any.
“There is. You need to check into and get on the ball and get some outside funding that way,” said Walkup. “You can do a whole lot more than you are doing than sitting there and complaining that you don’t have enough money.”
The conversation would move on to Liberty Lake and the cabins being close to done, but still needing interior work done, electrical ran to the showerhouse and cabins as well.
Bishop questioned whether or not they could hire a director and another full-time position for the dollars on their budget sheet with the $40,000 cut.
“For that figure whether we can hire a director and another full-time person, I still have to question if we can do it for that dollar in this day and age,” said Bishop.
The meeting ended with no action taken.
The Board of Supervisors meets every Monday at 9 a.m. with agendas posted every Friday in the Record-News office and in the auditors office.