Knight Backs Plan to Sock Away County Money for a Rainy Day

The Jefferson County Commission met in its committee meeting March 7, 2023. (Photo from Jefferson County Office of Public Information)

Jefferson County Commission Finance Chairman Joe Knight repeated Tuesday his plan to continue on a conservative path that includes squireling away money in the county’s reserve accounts.

Knight said near the end of the commission committee meeting that the finance and budget offices had managed to have a reserve at the conclusion of fiscal 2022. He acknowledged that building reserves is the result of paying bills while also practicing financial responsibility.

“If you have an opportunity, you should fund your reserve accounts,” he said. “We’ve done that throughout when we could, and this year we’ll do it again. That is the Uncertainty Fund, the Catastrophic Fund and the Budget Fund, and OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits).”

Knight said financial forecasts are varied, with some saying the economy is due for a downturn, others saying the nation is “looking down the barrel of a recession” and others saying the stock market may drop 20%.

“The warning signs are out there,” he said, adding that consumer spending has helped to drive up inflation. “Spending is now being sourced from savings accounts and credit cards. With these interest rates, when those credit card bills start really hitting heavily, I think you’re looking at a decrease in spending. Not by choice, but probably by necessity.

“We don’t know where we’re going but I haven’t seen a lot of rosy pictures of the next year or two,” the commission finance chair said. “Interest rates, according to the Fed, are probably going to remain high, which is not a good sign for us, especially having to go back to the market on the sewer debt.”

Knight said his philosophy is be conservative with the county’s spending.

“If you’ve got extra now, pigeonhole it, save it because you don’t know what’s coming,” he said. “We don’t want to get into a situation to where, like in 2008, 2009, we’re getting crushed and then we just run out of money and have to cut back. I think the wisest avenue now is to pursue a conservative course, stay the course.

“But let’s not look for a whole lot of new stuff to spend on,” Knight continued. “I’ve got a notebook full of people saying, ‘The county’s got money. Let’s ask for some.’ Right now, I’m just gonna try to be fiscally conservative on the spending now and in the next cycle. We’re doing OK. Let’s just hold the course.”

Attacking Ambulance Times

During the committee meeting, commissioners moved several resolutions to the agenda of Thursday’s meeting that use ARPA funds to put the county on course to improve ambulance response times in unincorporated Jefferson County.

Justin D. Smith, an assistant to County Manager Cal Markert, said one resolution provided an overall framework for equipment purchases and the other items will execute purchase agreements on some of that equipment.

The resolutions provide:

  • $1,431,558 to purchase six ambulances.
  • $1,141,825 for five ambulances.
  • $34,112.40 for 13 radios and antennas to be outfitted on ambulances.
  • $855,770.80 for stretchers and stretcher accessories to be outfitted on ambulances.
  • $252,052.77 for stretchers and stretcher accessories to be outfitted on ambulances.

“In the future, there will be some other items that we’re likely going to see relevant to some training and some other things,” Smith said. “The EMS-related items on the agenda today, under the American Rescue Plan, is the first step of the commission’s goal of providing improved EMS response time in unincorporated Jefferson County.”

Smith praised the work of Chris Willis in Commission President Jimmie Stephens’ office in locating the equipment, getting it properly procured and helping to make sure it met federal standards.

“My role was pretty much limited to getting those agreements onto the agenda, in front of the commission,” Smith said. “Chris did all the heavy lifting on it and did a really good job.”