County raises? Budget committee raises possibility
The Carroll County Quorum Court's budget committee met Thursday to begin the process of planning for 2015.
Justice of the Peace Jack Deaton, chairman of the committee, used Thursday's session to set target dates and an overall strategy. Raises for county employees topped the list of important issues. "Everything has gone up except their paychecks," Deaton said.
The county has gone three years without pay increases.
Treasurer Cindy Collins expressed cautious optimism.
"We'll be better off everywhere except the jail and the sheriff," she said.
Collins explained that although the county's finances have improved, department heads will still need to find ways to cut expenses to free up some money for raises.
Those cuts would have to come in departments already struggling after several years of tight budgets.
"If you want raises, we'll have to make drastic cuts," JP Gaylon Riggs said. "What can we live without?"
Committee members said they may have to look at eliminating some positions to make raises possible.
They found general agreement in aiming for a 50-cent raise for all, whether they work a 35-hour or a 40-hour week. Percentage raises awarded in the past favor those at the higher pay grades, and the 50-cent raise would have the opposite effect. Collins reminded the JPs that even if the quorum court budgets the money for raises, department heads will have some autonomy in how they award the raises.
Collins estimated a 50-cent raise would cost the general fund about $75,000.
The JPs wrestled with the question of whether to ask department heads to include raises in their budgets. That might create hopes that the quorum court might later disappoint, but planning for the raises would help give department heads incentive to cut costs. Collins suggested including the raises in the proposed budgets, "so we can see it."
The county has struggled with higher health insurance costs, but a phone call to the county's insurance agent suggested those costs will not increase in 2015. Collins said her main concern focuses on the sheriff's office and the detention center. The budgets for those departments have grown significantly, and revenues from the jail tax have not kept up with expenses at the jail. Collins said the quorum court may have to spend from the general fund to make up the difference.
"They're going to have to live within what people voted for them to have," she said. "We can't outpace our revenues that fast."
Collins said she had opposed funding another position in the detention center last year.
"It concerned me then, and it concerns me even more now," she said.
Collins said that until 2008, the county spent $540,000 per year to pay off the cost of the jail. Paying off the mortgage should have freed up additional funds for operation of the jail and dispatch.
Collins explained some of the other factors involved. Funding for 911 comes from landline telephones, but with fewer phones in service, that revenue has declined by $30,000, while costs rose by $50,000, partially because of insurance increases. The sheriff's office and the detention center need to rebuild their carryover funds, Collins said, and the proposed 50-cent raises would cost an additional $53,000 for the detention center and dispatch.
In answer to a question from the committee, Collins explained that the quorum court has the option of not budgeting grants-in-aid, such as the $23,000 the county contributes to the Carroll County Senior Activity Center. The committee also mentioned the possibility of awarding bonuses instead of raises, since raises become permanent.
Deaton said he wants to have a completed draft of the budget for the Nov. 21 quorum court meeting, so all the JPs would have an opportunity to study it before the December meeting. The committee set a Sept. 29 deadline for department heads to submit their budget proposals.
Despite some general optimism, the committee members had no delusions about the task ahead. As the meeting ended, Deaton turned to Riggs and said, "Get some rest -- October's going to be a long month!"