Raises, travel on table

Published 10:06 pm Monday, July 27, 2009

Whether or not to grant county employees annual raises and how to manage travel and commissioner’s discretionary funds were key issues at the Pike County Commission budget hearing Monday.

The commission held its second budget hearing in preparation for the 2010 fiscal year budget, which starts Oct. 1, and these topics monopolized the discussions.

While county employees are guaranteed an annual 3-percent raise, as part of a personnel policy, the commission may amend that policy this year.

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“I would like for us to see about changing that policy so there’s not a guarantee for us giving a raise every year,” said Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan.

No action was taken on the issue Monday, but Sullivan wasn’t the only commissioner supporting a way to avoid what have become automatic annual raises for county employees.

“I think we need to do something different because if we can’t afford a raise and already have the policy in force (when we find out) we can’t afford it, we could probably be liable for it,” said District 1 Commissioner Homer Wright.

“And with sales tax down, it could get worse. It could get better, but if it gets worse we’re going to be right back where we were borrowing money.”

District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Barron said the policy should be amended to allow commissioners to approve the step raises annually, rather than being a guaranteed part of the budget.

“I think we ought to terminate this (guaranteed pay increase) policy and (have) it come back to the commission’s discretion to give a raise when we can afford it,” Barron said.

“The county commission doesn’t have a reserve. If we have one disaster come through this county, we are in bad shape.

“We have outstanding employees, the problem is, can we afford it?”

District 5’s Charlie Harris said while raises are something he thinks the commission could afford in the future, it is worth considering taking a step back in light of economic times.

“This is just one year. We’re not the only ones cutting back,” Harris said.

But, District 4 Commissioner Ray Goodson said he would not vote to amend this policy.

“The 3 percent is what these employees have earned,” Goodson said. “And the 3 percent doesn’t come up all at one time. That 3 percent on their anniversary, they know they’re going to get that.”

With county raises, the commission’s proposed General Fund budget would still have excess revenues of $148,000, and if the commission moves forward with its proposal, the budget would gain around $177,000.

With hundreds of thousands needed in road repairs across the county, Barron said he worries even this won’t be enough.

“It won’t take but one bridge to fall again, and where are we going to get the money?” Barron said.

Commissioners asked County Administrator Harry Sanders and County Attorney Allen Jones to draft a proposal to amend the personnel policy, a move that will be considered in the next commission meeting Aug. 10.

The commission also discussed lowering its own discretionary money, funds each commissioner has to allot to agencies within Pike County or to offset travel expenses.

“If we vote that way, the commission does not need a discretionary fund,” said District 6 Commissioner Karen Berry.

After granting themselves a $27,600 total expense account last year, the commission decreased the total to $6,000 in proposed discretionary money for next year’s budget.

They also granted commission office employees $4,000 in travel expense for those who need continuing education to maintain certification.

Nothing discussed in the hearing will become final until the commission passes its budget.