Fayette sets balanced budget, will sell ’copter

The disposal of the helicopter unit used by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department is up for a ratification vote by the Fayette County Commission at its regular meeting Thursday night.

The vote is listed on the consent agenda, a sign that the matter is expected to be rubber-stamped by the commission based on the recommendation from Sheriff Barry Babb.

The commission is also slated to conduct a public hearing on the upcoming 2013-2014 fiscal year budget, which will not require a property tax increase and will not be balanced by using any of the county’s cash reserves. The budget totals $76.39 million including some $14.7 million for the water system, which is funded exclusively by user fees.

The commission will consider these items and more at their regular meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in the large meeting room at the county’s Stonewall government complex in downtown Fayetteville.

With a tightening budget under the new county commission, elimination of the sheriff’s department’s helicopter program will save the county about $200,000 a year which will be used to offset other training along with maintenance of the $1.27 million computer system the sheriff’s department purchased two years ago, Babb has said.

Proceeds from the sale of the 2007 Eurocopter brand helicopter will go back into the account used to purchase equipment and training for the sheriff’s office that is funded by federal drug forfeitures.

The sheriff’s office participates in regional drug investigations with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and thus gets a cut in the take when funds are confiscated from dealers.

In an interview published recently in The Citizen, Babb noted the seizure fund has been declining in recent years ... in part due to changes in the way drug cartels and dealers operate.

The seizure fund saw an influx of $2.6 million in 2010-2011 but that dropped off to $600,000 the following year and the current account balance is down to $750,000, the sheriff has said.

In addition to cutting the helicopter program, which was used to provide air support during pursuits and also on routine patrols, Babb is scaling back the department’s K-9 unit by eliminating three K-9 teams. While the drug seizure funds have paid for the purchase, certification and kennel for the K-9s, they did not cover maintenance, medical expenses and food, all of which have to be covered by the general fund budget, Babb explained.

As for the county’s budget, it includes a one-time “incentive” equal to 2 percent of each employee’s salary if they are able to meet budget expectations. County Manager Steve Rapson has noted that the government has cut a number of positions but its employees have provided the same level of service in getting by with less.