County budget coming into focus
The Carroll County Quorum Court's budget committee held a final meeting Monday afternoon, preparing to submit recommendations to the next meeting of the full quorum court.
The committee has met almost weekly since early September. Justice of the Peace Jack Deaton, serving as committee chairman, summed up the committee's work as "successful" at the end of the meeting.
"We got everyone a raise, and stayed within our revenues," he said.
Throughout the process, the JPs focused on giving county employees a raise, after several years without an across-the-board pay increase. The committee members chose a 50-cent hourly raise rather than a percentage increase, because percentage increases favor those making more money. JP Lamont Richie expressed concern that every county employee will expect a 50-cent raise, but department heads will have some discretion in awarding the raises.
Treasurer Cindy Collins explained that the county was in the same position in previous years when awarding percentage raises. Department heads could allocate more or less to individual employees. Collins also explained that the JPs could specify that each employee will receive the same 50-cent raise, but otherwise the department heads can decide how to allocate the additional wages.
Richie said he did not have a preference for either approach, but he said the quorum court must ensure that county employees know what to expect.
Several members of the Carroll County Airport Commission attended the meeting to appeal the committee's plan to slash the airport's budget from $84,000 to $48,000 for the coming year.
Morris Pate has just joined the commission, and he will become chairman in January. He brought financial reports with him, including the airport's other sources of revenues. At a committee meeting Oct. 29, the JPs had mentioned the difficulties they encountered when they asked the CCAC for financial information.
The JPs pointed out other financial information the quorum court should have from the airport, and Pate promised, "We'll do
whatever works for you." He said, "I can't undo what's been done," but he pledged to meet any requests for information.
The JPs appreciated the change in attitude.
JP Ron Flake said, "Our biggest issue has been the leadership at the airport."
Flake said the quorum court "couldn't get the financial information to make an informed budget," and he cited the commission's history of "stubbornness."
Deaton said, "The only power we had was to take money away."
He also explained that committee members had heard a favorable public response to media reports of their proposal to slash the airport's budget.
"In the last few years, everything has gone downhill out there," he said.
The JPs had issues other than a lack of financial information. They questioned the salary drawn by Airport Manager Dana Serrano. JP Gaylon Riggs pointed out that Serrano makes more than sheriff's deputies, and the JPs have complained in the past about what they have described as Serrano's lack of qualifications. Pate said Serrano is on-call around the clock, but Riggs wondered, "How much work is out there to justify a full-time and a part-time employee?"
The commission has the authority to act without interference from the quorum court, but the JPs demanded more accountability with so much county money involved. They decided to remove Serrano from the county insurance.
Pate said, "We can't keep the doors open with $48,000."
The JPs agreed to reconsider the airport's budget in February. Pate said he will try to bring a representative of the Federal Aviation Administration to discuss the county's responsibilities in maintaining the airport.
The full quorum court will consider the 2015 budget at the Dec. 19 meeting.
After Monday's meeting, Collins said, "The county is in good shape financially," and she will recommend adoption of the budget.