The Hunt County Commissioners Court Wednesday continued the debate over what to do about a potential deficit in next year’s county budget.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Jim Atkins suggested the county consider making cuts to funds allocated toward local animal shelters and municipal libraries.

“These are things we need to be looking at,” Atkins said. “We are funding things in this budget we have no business funding.”

County Judge John Horn had asked each county department to find a five percent reduction in their respective budgets and again urged the commissioners to do the same.

“You cannot go out and attack other entities ... without looking at yourselves first,” Horn said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Kenneth Thornton said he had already found cuts in his budget.

“My position is, we’ve got to set a precedent,” Thornton said. “I’m willing to do it, rather than raise taxes on people that are struggling now.”

But Atkins stressed how, since the road and bridge funds were cut in the current year’s budget, he already had necessary maintenance projects which were being postponed.

“I’ve got to do some of this stuff, guys,” Atkins said, adding he might have to consider layoffs later on. “The reality of it is, is infrastructure deteriorates. I’ve got to make these repairs, I’ve got to.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Latham also said he would be hard-pressed to make any significant cuts.

“This year it is really critical,” Latham said. “I can cut a little more somewhere, but ...”

Wednesday marked the third day of meetings concerning the proposed budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Horn said the county is faced with losses of revenue due to reduced property values, minimal return on investments, significant business closures, and rising expenses due to health care costs as well as multiple murder and death penalty capital murder cases.

County Auditor Jimmy Hamilton said as of today, the county is in good financial shape.

“Because you guys, you put the breaks on things, but that was last year,” Hamilton said, warning of problems, “if you don’t watch that spending very, very carefully.”

The county is currently operating under a $32.9 million budget and a tax rate of 50.75 cents per $100 valuation. Under the budget, each precinct’s road and bridge fund was reduced by $100,000  from the previous fiscal year and the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office budget was reduced by $250,000.

Horn explained the economy has been in a slump since before he took office as county judge.

“We’ve been on the downside of the graph for the past seven years,” Horn said.

He noted how city and county governments across the country are cutting back. State agencies were told Tuesday by the governor’s office and the Legislative Budget Board to find another 10 percent in cost reductions.

Horn said the cuts Atkins recommended at the start of Wednesday’s meeting would come to about $150,000, and the county is looking at the possibility of a $1.5 million deficit unless taxes are increased.

“That’s still a long way away,” Horn said. “What else? What’s the solution?”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Larry Middlebrooks said the commissioners should stick together in dealing with the situation, and to be prepared for some negative feedback from the taxpayers.

“I think we should be united,” Middlebrooks said. “If we don’t, it is going to be a four-letter word. If we can’t be together, why should they care?”

Additional budget workshops are scheduled at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday of next week. The meetings are open to the public.

A new county budget and tax rate must be approved before the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1.

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