County commissioner Derek Doster said Tuesday that he’d at least like some discussion among county election board members about possibly consolidating some of the county’s 12 voting precincts.
BOC members have voiced interest in decreasing the number of voting precincts in the county to reduce expenses and to help ensure there’s adequate staffing at the remaining precincts. But the BOC doesn’t control how many precincts are in the county. That responsibility falls to the three-person election board, chaired by Tracy Dean, who said Monday that she doesn’t foresee the election board being interested in reducing the number of precincts. Dean noted that there is concern that people who’ve long voted at the county rural county precincts would be disenfranchised by the loss of their long-time polling place. She also said finding proper facilities to house consolidated polling places is an issue.
Doster said he’d like the election board to at least investigate the matter.
“I think we owe it to the taxpayers to at least have a conversation,” he said.
The precinct talk came amid more 2022 budget talks with elected officials and department heads. Two themes are clear: 1.) there’s growth in the county and more work to be done; 2.) there’s inadequate pay for some employees on the county payroll, especially part-timers.
Probate judge Cody Cross told commissioners that his case volume has doubled since 2009, while a clerical position has gone unfilled since that time. He asked the BOC to consider budgeting for a full-time employee in his office to help handle an increasingly heavy workload and to consider an increase in pay for his staff, bringing all clerks in his office up to at least $15 an hour. The lowest is at $13.60 and hour.
“We’ve been so inundated with work,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
Cross noted that the staff must interact with the public professionally on a variety of issues in the office, from a grieving person to someone angry about a traffic issue. He also noted having sufficient space for court is a real issue.
Dean noted that elections assistant Teresa Hilburn has been with the county for years and is the only person besides Dean certified to oversee county elections. She makes $15 an hour, and Dean requested that Hilburn’s pay be increased to $18 an hour. Dean also said she herself has been with the county for 31 years and is one of the lowest paid department heads. She asked the board to consider an increase.
Dean also asked the board to consider boosting pay for election-day poll workers, who haven’t received an increase in over a decade. She noted that there have been a lot of changes due to the election legislation passed in the spring. For instance, out-of-county citizens can now serve as poll workers. That means some poll workers may be hired from outside of Madison County, but on the flip side, other counties could entice Madison County workers to leave for higher pay.
Dean noted that there will be four elections in 2022 and that costs for postage will be notably higher next year than this year, considering the numerous mandated mailouts her office will handle.
Commissioner Terry Chandler said that pay for part-time workers at the recreation department is “embarrassing” after recreation department head Shelley Parham noted that part-time employees start at $7.50 an hour and supervisors make $8 an hour. She requested that the pay be increased by a dollar an hour for both.
Commissioners also heard requests for equipment at the recreation department, including a high-end mower and a service agreement for a GPS-operated field painting system that would substantially reduce recreation department labor on painting fields, freeing up workers for other maintenance duties. Also of note during the recreation talks, long-time maintenance supervisor Grady Autry will retire at the end of the year after 37 years of service to the county.
Tax commissioner Lamar Dalton told commissioners Tuesday that he has two employees who will earn more pay due to increased certification. He praised his current staff and said he’s trying to make sure they are compensated and not seeking work elsewhere. He noted that he has been under budget in previous years and that his office is now collecting taxes for all cities in the county. Commission Chairman Todd Higdon praised Dalton and his office for having a 99.6 percent collection rate for 2020, noting that some other counties have rates in the 80s. Dalton said former code enforcement officer Jack Huff is working with the office to collect delinquent taxes on mobile homes.
During talks about compensation, Higdon noted that Madison County’s full-time salaries may be lower than some surrounding counties, but he said the benefits package is often better, which he said can be an equalizer when looking at total compensation (including benefits) per hour.
Higdon said he hopes the board can have the 2022 budget finalized in early December.