BOC ap­proves FY18 bud­get

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - DAR­RYL WELCH dwelch@cov­news.com

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers (BOC) voted to ap­prove the county’s fis­cal year 2018 bud­get dur­ing a special called meet­ing Tues­day night at the His­toric Court­house.

This year’s bud­get main­tains last year’s mill­age rate of 13.441 but, be­cause of an in­crease in prop­erty tax as­sess­ments, will re­quire a tax in­crease.

The new bud­get gives county em­ploy­ees, ex­cept sworn fire­fight­ers and deputies, a 5 percent cost of liv­ing ad­just­ment. Fire­fight­ers and deputies will re­ceive mar­ket ad­just­ment pay in­creases con­sis­tent with Mar­ket Anal­y­sis and Rec­om­men­da­tions study pre­sented to the BOC in May.

The raises will be phased in in two in­cre­ments. Em­ploy­ees receiving the COLA will re­ceive a 3 percent in­crease ef­fec­tive July 1 and another 2 percent ef­fec­tive Jan 1, 2018. Em- ploy­ees receiving the mar­ket anal­y­sis in­crease will re­ceive half in July and half in Jan­uary.

Low salaries have been seen as an im­ped­i­ment to at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing and qual­i­fied and ex­pe­ri­enced county em­ploy­ees, es­pe­cially deputies and fire­fight­ers. Com­mis­sion­ers ex­pressed hope the salary in­creases will help ad­dress that prob­lem.

The new bud­get also calls for the county to trans­fer money into its cash re­serves, funds bal­ance and con­tin­gency fund.

Prior to the fi­nal vote on the orig­i­nal bud­get res­o­lu­tion, District 1 Com­mis­sioner Stan Ed­wards told com­mis­sion­ers that more than one home­owner had called him and said be­cause of the tax in­crease they will no longer be able to af­ford to stay in their home.

Ed­wards of­fered a dif­fer­ent bud­get plan.

“I am propos­ing a bal­anced bud­get with to­tal rev­enues of $58,627,277.71. That is a mill­age rate of 13.066, a .37 mills de­crease over what is cur­rently pro­posed in the cur­rent mo­tion,” he said.

Ed­wards said the bud­get he was propos­ing still con­sti­tuted a tax in­crease.

“It’s just some­what less of what is cur­rently on the floor,” he said.

Ed­wards told com­mis­sion­ers his bud­get pro­posal would give all county em­ploy­ees a 5 percent COLA, across the board. He said his pro­posal did not in­clude the mar­ket study pay in­creases.

He also said his bud­get also did not in­clude re­serves for fis­cal year changes to­tal­ing $660,790 that were in the pre­vi­ously pro­posed bud­get.

“Mine takes that away as well. We have Shire money com­ing in later in the year I hope can fill that gap,” he said.

Ed­wards said he’d sup­port a 5 percent COLA for em­ploy­ees in the FY19 bud­get if fi­nan­cial con­di­tions are right.

County Man­ager Lloyd Kerr told com­mis­sion­ers ap­prov­ing Ed­wards’ res­o­lu­tion would in­volve new hear­ings

“We would have to start the hear­ing process all over for the mill­age rate, as well as for the bud­get. We would have to go back and re­vise all of those num­bers and be­gin the hear­ing process again,” he said.

Kerr said the tim­ing of the pub­li­ca­tion and send­ing out of tax no­tices for prop­erty own­ers could also be af­fected.

“Our tax com­mis­sioner has a dead­line that she has to meet in or­der to get those printed in a timely fashion in or­der to meet the Oc­to­ber dead­line for those to be in peo­ple’s hands,” he said.

Pub­lic safety and the county’s fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity were rea­sons cited by mem­bers be­fore they re­jected Edward’s 11thhour pro­posal.

District Com­mis­sioner Lanier Sims said he was con­cerned about em­ploy­ees and cash re­serves.

“My big­gest con­cerns with the pro­posed bud­get: one is def­i­nitely the em­ploy­ees, two is the re­serves,” he said. “I’ve been with this board for seven years and it seems ev­ery year we have an emer­gency we did not plan for. If there’s an emer­gency at the Sher­iff’s Depart­ment, we have to take care of it. If there’s an emer­gency at the landfill, we have to take care of it.

“This is an op­por­tu­nity to start build­ing re­serves back and hope­fully in­crease our credit rat­ing, as it has also had a hit over these last few years.”

District 5 Com­mis­sioner Ronnie Cowan said while he agreed with Ed­wards in spirit, re­plen­ish­ing the cash re­serves and try­ing to stem the loss of pub­lic safety em­ploy­ees was a pri­or­ity for the BOC at the start of the bud­get process.

“Stan, I agree with you in spirit. I think though, our goal as we listed it at the be­gin­ning of this process was to re­plen­ish our cash re­serves and our fund bal­ances and to pro­vide ben­e­fits for our em­ploy­ees, but also to look at pub­lic safety in the terms of peo­ple we are los­ing,” he said.

“The only method we have from this board of com­mis­sion­ers is pay and ben­e­fits. I think the orig­i­nal pro­posed bud­get ac­com­plished most of that. I’m not com­fort­able with the mod­i­fied pro­posal.”

The Ed­wards bud­get pro­posal failed by a 3-1 vote with Sims, Cowan and District 3 Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schulz vot­ing against it.

Prior to the vote on the orig­i­nal bud­get pro­posal, Schulz echoed Cowan’s sen­ti­ments.

“We’ve got to get our em­ploy­ees sta­ble. We’ve got to have a com­pet­i­tive rate for our em­ploy­ees, es­pe­cially our pub­lic safety em­ploy­ees. We can’t con­tinue to lose pub­lic safety em­ploy­ees,” she said, “Most im­por­tant for me as well is the fact that we have to sta­bi­lize our bal­ances. We can’t be fis­cally ir­re­spon­si­ble.”

The vote on the orig­i­nal bud­get pro­posal passed by a 3-1 vote, with Sims, Schulz and Cowan vot­ing in fa­vor of the bud­get. District 4 Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son re­cused him­self from both votes.

Dar­ryl Welch | The Cov­ing­ton News

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers ap­proved its 2017-2018 fis­cal year bud­get Tues­day night.

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