Commission considers cost-saving opportunities

Published 11:31 pm Monday, August 27, 2018

Commissioners debated Monday whether to consider reclassifying a commission office position and how spraying and mowing roadside vegetation should be handled.

Commissioner Chad Copeland, District 4, suggested that the commission take two weeks to allow County Administrator McKenzie Wilson and Chief Financial Officer Debra Gibson to research whether an accountant position in the office could become a bookkeeper position.

“There are two on-staff accountants requiring degrees,” Copeland said. “Is it possible to have a bookkeeping position?”

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The question arose after the commission unanimously voted to move Jordan Cox, who had held that role, to Wilson’s former role as head of personnel and safety.

Commissioner Charlie Harris, District 5, argued that the commission should advertise the position now to avoid leaving the position unfilled for a longer period of time and to keep the person in that role highly qualified.

“We don’t need just a secretary in that position,” Harris said. “We don’t need someone that would mess up the numbers and make (Gibson and Wilson) some in behind them.”

Copeland said he wasn’t sure whether it was the right move to change the job description, but said he wanted the commission to at least research it before moving forward.

“I wholeheartedly agree that it is an important position, and if this is a bad idea, than that’s just what it is,” Copeland said. “I’m just asking for two weeks to allow them to look at that.”

For her part, Wilson said the office could manage the extra two weeks without anyone in the position.

“I was serving as interim administrator while still performing my duties as director of personnel and safety for months,” Wilson told the commissioners. “(Cox) is moving positions, but she will still be in the office to help out if needed.”

Copeland explained that he wants to consider the change in order to potentially save costs.

“There’s no new revenue on the horizon,” Copeland said. “Everything we do is going up. It may seem like small things and projects don’t help, but the 24-month plan is being funded by small changes just like this. A vacancy is the perfect time to look at this.”

Commissioner Russell Johnson, District 6, said the county could even consider outsourcing its accounting in the future after Gibson retires.

“If that were the case five to seven years down the road, we wouldn’t need a new accountant in the office,” Johnson said. “That’s just a long-term thought process.”

After more discussion, Harris withdrew his motion to advertise for the position to allow the commission the next two weeks to consider the changes to the position.

In other business, the county approved to switch to chemical roadside trimming instead of purchasing a new $200,000 piece of equipment to do the same work.

Harris said he met with other commissioners at the Association of County Commissions of Alabama conference last week and heard positive things from each county that had switched to this method of controlling the problem.

“Every one of them told me almost the same thing, that when you cut the brush back it comes back and keeps them busy,” Harris said. “The three using this said it is the best decision they ever made.”

However, Harris and other commissioners said the county needs to consider switching back to mowing roadsides instead of the chemical spraying that the county switched to last year.

Commissioner Homer Wright, District 1, said it was a waste of taxpayer money because he is getting complaints that there are always mowers out on the roadsides cutting grass despite the spraying being designed to reduce mowing.

County Engineer Russell Oliver said the only mowing has been the county taking care of spots that were put on the “do not spray” list that the contractor skipped over, only for the maintenance of those areas not to be maintained appropriately by private citizens.

The full-width mowing would not be done until after Labor Day, he said. The county made no decision on whether to continue the chemical spraying or return to mowing the roadsides themselves.

Harris also raised questions about the EMA-911 merger, bringing up concerns from officials in other counties that had merged the entities.

“We’d have to have two audits, two separate boards,” Harris said. “They worked through it and they had their ups and downs, with more downs than ups. Another was getting out of it for a reason I wouldn’t say here. Where are we going to get 100 and something thousand dollars to fix this thing? I don’t want to bite off something that’s going to bite us back.”