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Commissioners talk possible budget opt out

By Wendy Sweeter

The Lincoln County Commissioners met July 7 in a lengthy meeting.

The commission met for just under six hours for its first meeting this month. The budget discussion took up three hours of the meeting.

Auditor Marlene Sweeter reported a $7 million projected shortfall for the 2021 budget year. Commissioners discussed that they had little room to make cuts. Chair Mike Poppens warned that a decrease in staff will mean worse service to taxpayers. Or, some county roads could revert to gravel.

Commissioner Jim Schmidt noted they have an obligation to the public for public safety.

“We have a lot of obligations,” Schmidt said.

Poppens was also concerned about the items the state mandates the county has to provide but does not give them any funding.

“We need help and they’ve failed to do it. Taxpayers are paying the price,” Poppens said.

Schmidt was also concerned about the report the commission had received earlier in the meeting about the condition of the courtrooms and the old portion of the courthouse. He supported an opt out.

“We’re getting into an emergency situation here,” he said. “I want to point out other counties have opted out. Lincoln County has never had an opt out. We’ve worked within our means. There comes a time when we don’t have options. Your levy has been the same since 1988.”

Highway department superintendent Terry Fluit started in the department in 1997. He has identified about 35 miles that could be turned back to gravel that were gravel when he started. He said there are some roads they could stop maintenance on.

Poppens said the threshold to stop maintenance on hard surface county roads is 250 cars per day. If the county does not do an opt out, Poppens said turning roads back to gravel eventually would be what happens. They identified $2.75 million in road projects on Cliff Avenue and in Harrisburg, along with Highway 125 that would be cut.

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