Howard County facing $800,000 budget crisis

by Michael Stafford

NewsWest 9

A big budget crisis is looming in Big Spring.  Howard County is 800 thousand dollars in the hole, and they blame the recent jail shutdown for the cash crunch.

But now the day everyone has feared has arrived.

The overwhelming debt is causing the daily work schedule, and the district clerk's office is rolling along as usual, and the filing is getting done, but fewer employees are handling a larger workload, because of the looming cutbacks.  There's even a hiring freeze in place now.

"They're looking at the budget doing what they need to do.  I hope they can figure something out so not many people will lose their jobs." says District Clerk Colleen Barton.

In the County Clerk's office, they're also shorthanded.  In fact, a similar cutback in 2000 left the department one employee short back then, and Clerk Donna Wright says there's simply no where else to cut.

"So I'm hoping that will be my out for this cut, but you know if we don't come up with enough, and they have to then we'll have to go from there.  Everybody knows how we're strapped for money so we're just trying to do everything we can to cut back as much as we can on our own" says Wright.

These projected layoffs likely will spread far and wide from the County's library and Justice of the Peace office to Road and Bridge, and even the Sheriff's Office may lose two to three employees.

Some cutbacks however, will come through attrition as employees retire.  The exact number of jobs on the line hasn't been released yet.  That could come next week.

It's no secret the County's jail problems are to blame.  Voters rejected a new jail proposal back in November, and the cost to transfer inmates from the 60 year old jail has proven costly.

Because the County is swimming in red ink 800 thousand dollars in debt, officials say they only have a few choices, and none of them looks appealing.

County Judge Mark Barr says he doesn't even want to think what may happen if voters reject the next jail proposal, but right now, he's backed into a corner, and feels bad about what's going to happen next.

Judge Barr told us, "There's a lot of anxiety in the courthouse, and I understand that. And we're going to try to make it as painless as possible.  But the reality is we can't sit here on our duff, and not do anything and watch the county go broke.  That's what it amounts to."