BOC may cut jobs in animal control, building inspections, transfer station

Some Madison County employees could lose their jobs as county commissioners look for ways to trim costs. Commissioner John Pethel handed his fellow BOC members a list of suggested cuts during a budget meeting last week. The recommendations included the termination of two animal control jobs, a part-time building inspector and a scale house operator. He estimated savings from these layoffs at approximately $101,000.

“We are facing very poor economic times,” said Pethel. “Our government must take action to reduce costs. Every area of expense must be revisited. Our citizens expect us to be guardians of their tax dollars.”

Pethel also suggested that the BOC “insist the tax commissioner collect delinquent taxes, almost $750,000 over the past three years.” He suggested the BOC cut out $100,000 in EMS overtime costs, reduce the chief appraiser’s contract from $65,000 to $55,000 and eliminate Christmas gifts to employees. He estimated the total savings per year in job terminations and other reductions at $212,463.

County commissioners took no action on Pethel’s proposals last week, agreeing to meet this week with department heads who may lose employees.

“Ultimately, the decision is ours,” said Commissioner Stanley Thomas. “But we need to have some sort of communication with them (department heads), rather than blindside them. We need to let them know what might happen.”

Board members noted that building inspections are down due to the slump in the housing market. They seemed open to the possibility of cutting a building inspections position.

“There’s not a lot of building going on in Madison County,” said Thomas. “A lot of projects are being put on hold.”

However, there was some disagreement on cutting animal control jobs.

“I feel this is a service 95 percent of the county does not need,” said Pethel, regarding animal control. “… I think it’s a lot more trouble than the service we’re getting out of it.”

But Commissioner Mike Youngblood said he doesn’t favor doing away with animal control positions.

“We’ve come too far to do away with animal control,” said Youngblood. “The people in Hull have benefited from that.”

Commissioner Bruce Scogin noted that the code enforcement office, which also handles animal control, deals with much more than dog complaints.

“They’ve got a lot they deal with other than dogs,” he said.

Board members agreed that eliminating Christmas gifts for employees is an appropriate action, given the economy right now.

They said the county could advertise for a chief appraiser. The one-year contract for James Flynt, who currently holds that post, will expire at the end of December. Board members talked about having Flynt apply for the position at a reduced salary.

Thomas suggested that a $10,000 savings in the salary may not be worth the cost if tax appraisals suffer as a result. He noted the tax digest delays in recent years that occurred when the chief appraiser’s position remained vacant.

The board also agreed last week that they need to meet with the county EMS director Dwayne Patton to discuss ways to reduce EMS overtime costs.

Talk of layoffs comes on the heels of weekly budget meetings, with the BOC hearing from department heads and discussing ways to cut costs.

The group sat at the BOC table last week, going over line items in the roughly $14 million 2009 county budget and slashing roughly $160,000.

They said they expect to have a final tax digest by Oct. 20. Once the digest is set, the county will establish a mill rate. The group is also waiting on word from the governor’s office on whether he’ll release $428 million that is supposed to go to local governments as part of the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant. Madison County stands to lose about $600,000 if those funds are withheld.

Pethel said he prefers to cut jobs rather than raise taxes on local property owners.

“I went over this budget for three weeks,” said Pethel. “This (the sheet of budget suggestions) is a way we can make cuts without taking services away that are really needed.”

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