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County commissioners still poring over budget
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Budget hearing

The Effingham County Board of Commissioners will conduct a public hearing on Aug. 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Effingham County Administrative Complex in Springfield. A copy of the proposed budget summary and the complete proposed budget is available for public inspection during regular operating hours at the Administrative Complex.

Effingham County commissioners are set to approve their fiscal year 2010 budget next week. But what that final budget will look like — nearly a month after it was going into effect — remains a question.

Commissioners mulled proposed pay increases and merit pay raises for county employees, and they also are considering what to do with some county positions. Currently, the county has proposed a 4 percent cost of living adjustment and a merit increase of 2 percent. County staff contacted 35 of the state’s 158 other counties and discovered about 10 were giving increases this year, County Administrator David Crawley said.

The county conducted a salary survey a couple of years ago, Crawley said, that showed its employees lagged behind in pay compared to counties with a similar population.

“The Board of Commissioners has worked to make up the difference by increasing the county’s pay by 7 percent,” he said. “There is still a remaining 7 percent. The board’s intention was to make up the difference over a period of years.”

The COLA increases amount to approximately $509,000 and the merit pay raises will account for about another $185,000. The county also is proposing freezing several positions, which would add around $313,000 to the bottom line.

“We hired a lot of people two or three years ago when we were the eighth fastest growing county in the state,” said Commissioner Myra Lewis. “We’re not doing that. There’s a difference, a big difference. We need services and we want to supply the people with as many services as we can afford. Emergency services are not something you can wait till tomorrow to fill.”

Lewis said there were open positions that the county has not been able to fill.

“Obviously, we’ve managed without them,” she said.

Crawley said some positions only became open recently.

“Some of these people just resigned in the last week or two,” he said. “We’ve had positions that are frozen and positions that we’ve waited as long as we could to fill. Even though we’re not growing at the same rate, we’re one of the few counties in the state that is still growing. There is still an increased demand for our services.

“It was a determination previously that we have that position because of the demand for the service. I don’t want to see us get into a position where that any position that comes open is automatically frozen.”

Said Chairman Dusty Zeigler: “We’re in somewhat of a maintenance cycle. Unless we intend to cut services, I don’t think we should begin not to replace these folks who have left.”

The county’s proposed budget is the same as it passed for FY09 — approximately $30.4 million — and has considered using a $1 million out of the reserve to reduce the budget by the same amount.

“Our budget is very conservative,” Crawley said.

Commissioners also had broached the idea of a four-day work week earlier this year, and Crawley said Utah has gone to that set up. It has resulted in a decrease of energy costs by 13 percent and an increase in employee productivity by 9 percent, he said.

But commissioners cooled to the idea during their budget workshop last week.

“I just feel like the last two hours may not be that productive,” Lewis said, “and the citizens of the county expect someone to be here every day. I don’t see that as being a benefit to Effingham at this time.”

Lewis said she’s in favor of using the $1 million from the reserves to offset the impact of the loss of the homeowners tax relief grant. The state cut that out as part of its FY10 spending plan. Commissioners also said their constituents have voiced concern about property evaluations.

“My evaluation has gone up this year,” Lewis said, “and everybody I’ve talked to as well, except for one, has had their evaluations go up.”