Madison County government employees shouldn’t expect raises in 2014, but they could get a Christmas-time bonus this year.
County commissioners met for over four hours Aug. 5 to discuss the 2014 county budget, with the primary issue being employee compensation.
BOC members agreed that the economic outlook for the county is hazy. They don’t know what the next few years will hold. They acknowledged that any raises approved would carry over beyond next year. But board members seem eager to offer employees something, since raises haven’t been given in several years. So, they discussed a one-time bonus to employees. And the group seemed to like the idea of presenting lump-sum bonus checks to employees in December, just in time for Christmas.
Commissioner Mike Youngblood proposed a three-percent bonus for employees — excluding constitutional officers and county commissioners.
“Let’s give it to the department heads and let them distribute it how they want to,” said Youngblood. “This is a one-year deal. I don’t feel like with the economy like it is we can lock ourselves into following years.”
Youngblood told the elected officials and department heads who crowded the room for the budget meeting that he wants to see the end result, exactly how they distributed the money.
Three percent of all county salaries would equal roughly $175,000 to $180,000. Commission chairman Anthony Dove said there are 175 to 180 employees who could be considered for the bonuses. If the bonuses were distributed equally between all, then each employee would receive roughly $1,000.
That’s how commissioner Jim Escoe wanted the money distributed.
“In all fairness, it should be distributed evenly across the board,” said Escoe.
Youngblood and Escoe got into a heated exchange on the matter toward the end of the budget meeting, with Escoe raising his finger emphatically and Youngblood responding “don’t you point your finger at me.”
The board voted 3-2 in favor of Youngblood’s proposal to let department heads determine how to distribute the money. Pete Bond joined Escoe in voting against the measure. Youngblood said department heads know who is doing the best work and can reward employees accordingly.
Though the three-percent figure was discussed, the group didn’t vote on a total dollar amount for the bonuses. Likewise, the vote in favor of bonuses is actually tentative, because nothing is final until the board actually sets its 2014 budget. And BOC chairman Anthony Dove said Tuesday that the budget won’t likely be set until late in the year.
“I think we need to proceed with caution right now,” he said.
While bonuses were discussed Aug. 5, the commissioners also heard from elected officials and department heads about inequities in the county’s pay system.
For instance, Sheriff Kip Thomas, who requested close to $200,000 in raises for his department next year, said he has had real trouble with turnover in his department among supervisors since they aren’t compensated for their extra duties.
“The reason I asked for that (the raises) was to create a gap between supervisors and regular department employees,” he said. “We’ve got supervisors who make the same (as those they supervise). They have more responsibility, but they don’t get paid for it.”
Thomas and all other officials who took the podium Monday thanked the board for considering any boost in pay for employees, whether it’s through raises or bonuses.
And BOC members agreed that there are clear pay scale problems in the government. They said the inequities need to be addressed and they discussed forming a committee to investigate how to make the system fairer.
In other personnel matters Monday, the BOC agreed to allow the sheriff’s office to transfer a half-time jail employee into the sheriff’s office at a full-time slot. That person will now be responsible for keeping tabs on all registered sex offenders in Madison County.
The board also agreed to allow the clerk of courts office to move a part-time position to full-time to handle new state-mandated duties. The board also agreed to allow the tax commissioner’s office to reduce its part-time funding and create a full-time position.
While there will be no property tax increase by county commissioners this year, the board will need to dip into its reserves to handle a revenue shortfall. Dove opened the Aug. 5 meeting, noting that projected revenues for 2014 are $13.2 million. And expenses for next year will be $13.6 million. So, at least $400,000 could be taken from the county’s cash reserves to cover expected expenses. Any additional expenses — such as employee bonuses — will be tacked on to the $400,000 already expected to be pulled from reserves.
Madison County has maintained a healthy cash balance in recent years of roughly $5 million on average. That figure will dip this year since the BOC agreed earlier in the year to fund several road paving projects with reserve money. Dove projects the county to have around $4 million in reserves at the end of this year.
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