The Hancock County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday hosted its FY '20 budget hearing.
This year's proposed $23.5 million includes no tax increase for the county or school district, County Administrator Eddie Favre said.
The projected year-end cash balance is about $6.6 million, Favre said.
The budget is balanced and includes the state-mandated salary increases and fees, except for board member raises. There is no salary increase included for the supervisors and the board, which will take office in January after this year's election, will have the option of voting in the raise, Favre said.
The major projects included in the proposed budget include:
Countywide drainage program
• McLeod Park expan
• Buccaneer Park
• Bay St. Louis Pier No.
• Bridge replacements
• The arena project
The proposed budget also includes, for the third year in a row, a three-percent raise for employees, Favre said.
This year's proposed appropriations for non-county entities is the same or below FY '19's requests, Favre said, and all the department heads' needs were "substantially met."
Favre said there were two new items that haven't been included yet, one of which the county just received at the end of August from circuit court with a funding request of an additional $45,000 from the three counties that make up the district. Hancock County's share would be about $6,000, he said.
The second additional item is in the sheriff's office's budget and involves the sheriff's salary, Favre said.
The salary is three-fold, he said. One, based on Sec. 25-3-25, is based on population, of which Hancock County's is estimated to be in excess of 45,000, which would put the sheriff's base pay at $90,000, Favre said.
The second item is based on housing state inmates, based on Sec. 47-5-935, provides an additional $15,600, he said.
The third item is the "discretionary," Favre said, Sec. 25-3-25 subsection 10, and is the additional $10,000, which brings the sheriff's total salary to $115,600.
The $10,000 is requested in this year's proposed budget and Favre told the board that it was his recommendation to include it.
Another item not included, which the board approved that morning, is the contract with Path Company, LLC for professional services related to the energy savings project. That contract price is about $1 million, he said.
Favre also said that Lora Mederos, the executive director of the Hancock County Human Resource Agency, asked for additional funding for an expansion of an existing program for the senior citizens.
In the unincorporated areas of Hancock County, there is currently a three-day-per- week pick up service for seniors, he said. The plan is to expand that to five days.
The total cost of the program is about $30,000, Favre said.
SMPDD and internal funding from the HCHRA can fund about half. HCHRA is requesting an additional $15,865 for the program, Favre said, he recommended the board approve it.
Mederos said that currently about 16 seniors from the north part of the county ride the 22 passenger bus. She said that a number of the seniors suffer from "severe nutrition and health issues."
Coast Transit Authority provides the wheelchair-accessible transportation for the seniors, she said.
"The only other option we have is looking at the possibility of stopping our Handy Ride services through CTA which is on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the only reason we don't want to that is that is used mostly by folks for dialysis," Mederos said. "And that is a life or death, critical service that is being provided."
Mederos said that there are seven seniors currently utilizing Handy Ride and five of those are dialysis patients.
"The reason there's only seven is that the dialysis, getting patients to and from, kind of ties that bus up, and it limits what it can do," Mederos said.
Board president Blaine LaFontaine said, after a prior conversation with Mederos, he was told that if the funding wasn't there for additional service, then she would make the decision to stop the Handy Ride services and replace it with the proposed expansion.
"If we said that the funding was not available for that $15,865, would you as a director make that recommendation to discontinue the Handy Ride services?" LaFontaine asked.
Mederos said she wouldn't do it right away, but would wait until probably the end of March to give the dialysis patients enough time to make transportation arrangements.
She said that transportation through Medicare and Medicaid has almost been "totally cut out."
"That's what makes the decision so tough," she said. "We're looking at people that live in the north part of the county, in Diamondhead, very rural, they don't get out, they have no transportation whatsoever, they have no family," she said.
LaFontaine said that Mederos "made it sound as if the board had to pick and choose" between the services.
"You don't have to, but I do," Mederos said.
LaFontaine said that, "If you were saying here today that you were willing to make that decision, to disband those services and phase it out. Why would you?"
Mederos said she would have to choose between providing seven people with transportation or providing anywhere from 16 to 22 people with transportation.
LaFontaine asked Mederos where she felt the "most need" is.
Mederos said the transportation service provides seniors rides to the senior citizen center (where they can eat breakfast and lunch), doctor appointments, grocery shopping, and mental health appointments.
Mederos said that when HCHRA originally funded Handy Ride, the agency had "no idea that the bus would totally be tied up with dialysis." That was not its original intention, she said.
LaFontaine said that the board has funding for the upcoming year.
"In the future, let's just say there's not, I don't think its a position of someone's who's director, whether it be you or anyone else, can leave this room say 'well the supervisors and their administration have taken this service. It's not the supervisors' job to make that decision."
Mederos said she told the dialysis unit that it was an HCHRA decision.
LaFontaine said that's what he wanted to clarify, that the board isn't "picking and choosing winners here."
"We're trying to fund a service that your agency makes a decision about its services," LaFontaine said.
Supervisor David Yarborough asked how HCRA determines which seniors are eligible for the programs.
Mederos said that the agency contracts through the Area Agency on Aging. In order to qualify for Handy Ride, people must be 60 years old live in Hancock County, and be disabled. Disability, she said, is determined by CTA.
Favre and Supervisor Scotty Adam also told Mederos to treat the expansion like a "pilot program" and keep track of the number of participants for the first year.
In other action:
The board scheduled a recessed meeting for Sept. 10 at 8 a.m. to adopt the FY'20 budget and set the tax levies.
The State of the County address is scheduled for Sept. 12 at 8 a.m. in the Cypress Ballroom at the Hollywood Casino.
The board took several bids under advisement for repairs to the Possum Walk Trail.
The next regular meeting is scheduled for Sept. 16 at 9 a.m.