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County looks to trim budget
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Hoping to reduce the millage this year, Effingham County commissioners have asked department heads to make further cuts in their budget requests.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 stands at $30.457 million, less than the current fiscal year’s budget of approximately $30.7 million.

“We’ve got it cut down to where we think it’s reasonable and fair,” County Administrator David Crawley said.

Said finance director Joanna Wright: “Our budget is not increasing this year. We are going to roll back this millage.”

Commissioners also debated whether to include cost of living adjustments and merit increases for county workers this year.

“The way the economy is going, I can’t see our employees getting COLA and merit increases,” Commissioner Reggie Loper said. “I cannot go along with that. A bunch of counties have frozen merit increases and COLAs.”

Those increases would be more than $1 million, Loper said. But county employees also are not paid at the same level as employees in counties of similar sizes.

“Effingham County is one of the few counties that is still growing,” Crawley said. “Nobody really knows why, but we are.”

The county’s pay scale was on the high end of a C-level county when its population was under 50,000. Hudzinski-Sero said the county expected to be a B-level county in about two to three years.

“It wasn’t two to three years. It was more like three months,” she said.

County officials added $327,000 to the budget to bring the pay scale up 7 percent, but that was before the county became a B-level county. B level counties with populations similar to Effingham include Bartow, Barrow, Catoosa, Liberty, Spalding, Troup and Walker. Under state

Department of Community Affairs, B counties have populations between 50,000-99,999. C counties have populations between 38,000-49,999.
Effingham reached B level in July 2007. Taking an average of salary midpoints between B and C counties showed that Effingham employees were paid 14 percent the average scale.

“We said at the time that we were going to concentrate on COLA and merit raises until we got the pay scale (corrected),” Hudzinski-Sero said.

Said county project manager Adam Kobek: “We were going to try to do it slowly over the years.”

But the county’s population jumped — and it’s meant that the constitutional officers also have to be paid more.

County staff have been working on performance measures but have not finished implementing them.

“I think everybody is doing a good job,” Loper said. “But in these times, when people don’t have jobs, we’re spending $1 million on that.”

Said Commissioner Verna Phillips: “Nobody is questioning the talent we have on staff. We just want to make sure when we are compared to other counties, we’re being fair.”

Hudzinski-Sero said the county is very generous in some aspects of compensation.

Chairman Dusty Zeigler said the good thing is that 90 percent of the county’s employees live in Effingham.

“(They) turn around and spend their money in our county,” he said.

He also advised staff to be mindful of the threshold of the taxpayers and if the average income has risen or fallen.

The draft has an overtime pay set aside of $250,000. Overtime has been cut by 15 percent, and Phillips said there are some departments that have to have overtime.

“We can’t eliminate it,” she said.

And in the present fiscal climate, that means more strain and demand on county services, Crawley said.

County staff and the commissioners’ finance liaison committee worked for a couple of weeks on budget requests to come up with the draft of the budget.

Human resources director Rushe Hudzinski-Sero said a building inspector position that had been used was eliminated. The building inspections department is looking for an assistant director to learn the job and eventually take over for director Jackie Davis once he retires. That assistant position then would not be filled.

The lack of construction activity in the county has led the county to not fill the current open position.

“We didn’t know if things would turn around. They’ve been slow to turn around,” Crawley said.

The county’s fire department is looking for another full-time firefighter to get the staffing up to the level needed for 24-hour coverage.

The tax commissioner’s office also asked for a senior deputy tax commissioner and a senior tag clerk while removing a tax clerk. The chief deputy could sign off on certain paperwork that a deputy tax commissioner cannot, Hudzinski-Sero said.

The county is looking at staffing the soon-to-open 911 center. The 911 dispatchers now work out of the sheriff’s office, but they would move to the 911 center off Courthouse Road — and there would be a couple of positions to fill in the sheriff’s department.

The 911 director’s pay did not change but simply shifted departments. But if Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie opts to keep those four positions, that would mean an additional $109,000, Hudzinski-Sero said.

“They said if we built that 911 center, that would eliminate a lot of the confusion,” Commissioner Verna Phillips said. “This is not working out the way I thought it would.”

“It’s a secure building. It was designed to be that way,” Crawley said.