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Commissioners OK $28.8 million budget
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Effingham County commissioners approved a $28.86 million budget Tuesday for the coming fiscal year by a 4-1 vote, setting aside money and procedures to approve raises.

Commissioners OK’d the budget, which is approximately $600,000 more than last year’s spending plan, by a vote of 4-1.

County staff took about $300,000, the amount reserved for regrades, raises and new employees and separated it into a line item.

“So that none of those funds will be within a department and will not be released until your approval,” finance director Joanna Floyd said.

“We’ve got money saved there until there is a decision,” County Administrator Ed Williams said.

Floyd reiterated that the commissioners wanted to see departments come up with additional revenues to cover any new employees.

“We said we want to take care of the people we have right now,” Chairwoman Verna Phillips said.

Commissioner Reggie Loper said commissioners need to address personnel shortfalls in other departments, such as animal control and sanitation.

“Before we give anybody a raise, we need to give (sanitation department director) Connie (Burns) someone to drive a truck part-time,” he said.

The county’s fire fees will stay the same but sanitation fees are expected to rise from $144 to $168 a year. There are 14,144 residents served by Republic Waste, which has the contract to provide sanitation service for the unincorporated county.

Williams said the increase was necessary because Republic estimates the cost of waste removal and disposal will be higher this year and their costs could eat up the entire increase.

Republic’s level of service also came under fire again from commissioners, who recited recent complaints they have had.

“I don’t know anyone who has gotten any service out of Republic,” Commissioner Jeff Utley said.

Williams said Republic will commit five more trucks to Effingham trash routes and assistant county attorney Eric Gotwalt noted that sanitation fees in unincorporated Chatham County are $295 a year.

Under a new procedure, department heads can move money within a category, such as personnel and capital outlay, from line item to line item but cannot move it from one category to another. Williams is expected to go over this with the department heads today.

The commissioners also agreed to resume their $2,000 a year funding for the Rape Crisis Center after another plea from Mary McCalister and Kelli Arden.

“I wish we didn’t need a rape crisis center anywhere,” McCalister said. “But we have victims everywhere.”

She said one in three women are the victims of sexual assault in their lifetime, citing FBI statistics. The center, which has received $2,000 from the county for nearly 20 years, missed the deadline for agencies to apply for continued funding and appealed to the commissioners.

“We depend on all of it,” McCalister said.

Rape Crisis also conducts instruction in local schools, going over “good touch, bad touch,” which board member Kelli Arden said she remembered from her elementary school days 20 years ago.

“We keep your kids safe,” McCalister said. “The schools just love us.”

The center doesn’t get any funding from the schools but is grateful for the opportunity for its preventive programs.

“It seems like everybody wants to come to the board of commissioners for funding,” Commissioner Hubert Sapp.

Queried about a possible duplication of services by Sapp, McCalister also spelled out the differences between the Rape Crisis Center and the Victim Witness Assistance Program. Victim witness will refer clients to the center but while victim witness is a part of the court process, many rape crisis center clients don’t press charges. The center also provides a crisis line.

“Only one of 10 rapes is reported,” McCalister said. “So we get a lot of people who never go through the court process.”

Rape crisis used to have a forensic nurse at the Effingham Hospital, who did a comprehensive exam for sexual assault victims, but that service is now only available in Savannah.

“We appreciate everything you do,” Phillips said. “I feel you serve you a valid function for this community.”