Luster discusses county finances
by Rachel Davis
Feb 13, 2013 | 1552 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SUMITON — Newly-elected Walker County Commission Chairman Billy Luster spoke to the East Walker Chamber of Commerce Tuesday at Lee’s Restaurant.

He opened by reading a 2004 Birmingham News article that called the Walker County Commssion out for agreeing to pay $27.2 million over the next three decades on a $9.5 million loan. The money from the loan was used to make road repairs, pay employees and finance other day-to-day operations in the county. This would mean from 2018 to 2032 the county would owe approximately $1.7 million each year. The general fund budget is based on approximately $22 million per year, although many of these funds are earmarked for specific issues.

Luster said these loans were his primary concern, and the largest challege the current commission faces is to restructure the debt to reduce the impact on Walker County citizens and services provided by the county.

Luster said the current commission has sought expert advice on the outstanding debt and has received many opinions that recommend the county restructure and refinance the debt to the currently available lower interest rate. The current rate on the main loan is 3.972 percent and the rate if refinanced would be 1.6965 percent.

The commission is also considering rolling a small amount of additional money into the refinance in order to repair county roads. Luster said the county is planning to apply for funding through the ATRIP program to repair roads and would use the additional funds as match money for those grants.

Luster said he was also concerned with the condition of the county’s solid waste department, which has faced shortfalls of more than $300,000 for each of the last 3 years.

Luster said the first step was cutting back on unnecessary overtime and using district employees as needed to supplement shortfalls.

“By and large we have some of the best employees in the state of Alabama,” Luster said.

He said they have also stopped the use of Walker County Jail inmates being used in solid waste collection because of the financial, liabilty and security concerns about their use.

Luster said the commission has cut costs where available, including eliminating the use of county vehicles for personal use.

They have also ensured that all county vehicles are marked with blue tags and ordered new signs for county trucks so residents can identify them.

Another concern was the condition of the county’s storm sirens, after he found at least one siren that was not in working order and may never have functioned.

Luster said that each of the previous years has seen $5,000 budgeted for maintenace and repairs on the sirens, but has never stuck to that number and is already at 91 percent of budget for those sirens issues for 2013.