Commission at budget impasse

Published 9:39 pm Monday, September 20, 2010

The Pike County Commissioners moved no closer to an agreement to finalize a passable budget for the fiscal year 2011 Monday night than the physical distance between them.

The commissioners met at 5:15 p.m. in the meeting room at the Pike County Health Department. The meeting ran long without reaching any agreement on two points of contention.

The commissioners reviewed the proposed budget department by department with only a few questions interrupting the roll call.

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The first snag came with the EMA budget request that included the expansion of a part-time temporary position to fulltime status.

Jeanna Barnes, EMA director, had reduced the original budget request for funding by about $22,000.

However, she still asked for funding for a fulltime employee.

Fifty percent of the $23,000-base salary fulltime position would be grant funded and would basically cost the commission about $6,000 additional dollars a year.

“A fulltime employee would make it possible for us to do more things,” Barnes said. “It would give me time to do more public relations and training.”

When questioned by Commissioner Robin Sullivan as to whether there was a guarantee that the grant would be awarded, Barnes said that there were no guarantees.

Commissioner Orin Fannin said that it was unwise to spend money that “we don’t have.”

“We need to pass a budget based on the money that we’ve go to do with, not on what it would be nice to have,” he said.

Commissioner Charlie Harris said if the grant is not awarded and there is no money in the coffer, the commissioners might have to pay the money back out of their own pockets.

“We can’t approve a budget on money we don’t have,” he said.

The commissioners said they were “uncomfortable” with the EMA budget request and asked Barnes to meet with Harry Sanders, county administrator, and create a more detailed proposal of the EMA’s budget needs for consideration at Tuesday night’s budget hearing.

The tension seemed to be growing as the hearing moved closer toward the most divisive item in the FY2011 budget – county employee anniversary pay raises.

Fannin was the first out of the corner.

“I am totally against raising our own salaries or those of any elected officials,” Fannin said. “But there are some employees that (are being paid) at dirt level but are producing. It’s feasible to give them a raise while those who are being paid at a high salary level can get by without one. I’m against elected officials giving other elected officials a raise.”

Sullivan was commission chairman when the 1-cent sales tax was passed that generates revenue for education. Seventy-five percent of that tax goes to education and 25 percent to the Pike County Commission.”

Sullivan said commissioners supported the tax with the understanding that they would have a steady revenue source to fund ongoing pay increases for county employees.

He said he is committed to that.

“If we give any pay raises, we should give all employees the 3 percent employee anniversary raises.

“They all work hard and are deserving of the raises,” Sullivan said. “I will not go back on my word.”

Sullivan said as far as a pay raise for him, “I don’t want one and will not accept one.”

Commissioner Ray Goodson said that he didn’t agree to any ongoing pay increases.

Harris said he, too, was unsure of the language of the agreement and asked Sanders to “school us on what we voted on.”

“We don’t want to end up in a lawsuit,” Harris said. “We need to do what we have to do, give a raise or not give a raise. But how many years can we keep giving 3 percent anniversary raises and not drown ourselves?”

Jimmy Barron, commission chairman, said he is not saying that the employees don’t deserve a raise; it’s just that there is the danger of sales tax revenue not keeping in step.

“If the economy keeps on like it is and our sales taxes like the are, things could go downhill and we could be in the red again,” he said. “We’ve got to keep that in mind. It’s going to be a tough decision but we’re going to have to come to some kind of agreement on this pay raise issue. We’ve got pass a balanced budget by Oct. 1. The law mandates it. We don’t have a choice.”

The commission will meet again tonight to review the budget.