Chambers County kicks off 2025 budget meetings

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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The Chambers County Board of Commissioners held its first budget meeting for the fiscal year 2025 on June 17. This was the first of many meetings where department heads will present their funding requests to the Commission. 

On Monday, in the Commission office, seven department representatives discussed how their department used funding for the current fiscal year and how much funding they would need for the next fiscal year. 

Jimmy Dicky of East Alabama Mental Health Center asked for the same level of funding as in previous years, $15,000. 

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The EAMHC out of Opelika is a non-profit public center for mental health services for Lee, Chambers, Russell, and Tallapoosa counties. The center has inpatient and outpatient services, as well as referrals to local hospitals. Dicky said the center’s key difference from other local providers is admission criteria. 

“We don’t turn people away because they don’t have the right insurance. We serve who comes through the door, who meets the criteria… we see them, we serve them regardless of payer source.”

In the past year, the center has served 1,673 Chambers County residents and had 344 bed days used by residents at the crisis residential unit. Dicky said over $186,000 was spent to provide services to residents at the Alsobrook Center in Chambers County. This amount was just for those without insurance, or “uncompensated care.”

The organization recently received funding to expand its services in the Chambers County School System, by hiring another counselor. 

Dicky said they hope to expand infrastructure in Chambers as well. Alsobrook, the clinic off Fairfax Bypass in Valley is the department’s smallest clinic. He also hopes to add a crisis and diversion center, which would allow law enforcement to take individuals dealing with mental illness to the facility rather than jail or a hospital. Dicky did not include these expenses in the proposed budget but asked the Commission to consider stockpiling some funding for large future projects.

Hollie Cost of Auburn University’s Rural Health Initiative requested $3,850 for internet services. Auburn University is still paying for the majority of the operating costs for the Chambers County Community Health and Wellness Center. However, the county and city of LaFayette will have to carry some of the cost moving forward. 

Auburn had secured the first two years of funding for staffing, internet, services and the OnMed Telehealth station. The FY24 funding will extend through September 30 of this year. Additional funding has been secured by Auburn through March of 2025. 

After March, Auburn is requesting the county and city of LaFayette to split the cost of internet and staffing. It is proposed that Auburn will assume 50 percent of the expenses, with the county and LaFayette paying 25 percent each. The cost of OnMed, which is the largest expense according to Cost, will continue to be covered by the University. There are currently two full-time employees at the center, who are under the Extension Office. The salary costs are still being calculated. 

Chambers County Emergency Management Agency asked for a $4,127 increase in funding, totaling $86,682. Yeager said the increase would be for the maintenance of emergency sirens. This requires the purchase of both new software and hardware. 

Yeager said they are hoping to move away from community sirens as the cost to add sirens and maintain them is high. She said buying a single siren costs $72,000. Instead, the Agency hopes to move towards providing personal weather radios for citizens. 

“Kathy [Hornsby] just got a grant for a little over 2000 radios to serve the deaf and blind community with strobes and bed shakers and also with the elderly,” Yeager said.

Commissioner Sam Bradford asked about employee turnover at EMA. Yeager said that on the EMA side, retention is good, and the 911 dispatch is starting to get better. She adds that since they increased the starting pay for dispatchers, they have been able to hire three new employees and keep them. However, the starting pay is still less than the pay in Troup and Lee County.