BP Oil Spill Money May Help Bay County's Budget Needs

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Bay County Commissioners could have some extra money to answer budget needs for next year. The county has already settled its 2010 BP oil spill claim for $8 million.

Commissioners say that money won't go as far as you might expect.

One-by-one, Bay County's constitutional officers appeared before county commissioners with their budget requests for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Most of them asked for increases, to pay for things like increasing health care costs and pensions.

"It's not as big of an increase as they usually do. There wasn't any problem today. Everybody looked at everybody's budgets and then we'll spend the next few weeks trying to get it down where we want it," said Commissioner Mike Thomas.

Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen, who suffered a major budget cut last year, is asking for the largest increase, almost $1.5 million:
$800,000 for the Sheriff's Office and $600,000 for the county jail.

McKeithen also says he need to cover an expiring federal grant that funded five deputies for the Cedar Grove area.

When you add up all of the constitutional officers' requests and the county's other obligations, it totals to about $2.5 million.

Commissioners say they couldn't even consider those requests without the BP settlement.

"Every year we just went down, down, down and we had more cuts and more cuts and more cuts. That's kind of what got us here today. We've cut these folks to where it's just not right to cut them anymore, if we don't have to raise taxes," Bay County Commission Chairman, George Gainer.

If everyone gets what they want, commissioners can still put about $5 million into the reserve account.

It's a sign this year's budget is better than in the past.

Commissioners are also considering one-time pay supplements, or bonuses, for county employees, who haven't had raises in several years.

The budget must be approved by October 1st.