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County proposes pay raises
Draft budget calls for 2.6 increase in spending
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Effingham County commissioners are weighing a proposed budget that includes raises for county employees.

The draft $27.5 million spending plan is a 2.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year 2015 budget, according to finance director Joanna Wright. The budget in effect now until June 30 is $26.8 million and the expected increase in expenditures is $696,000.

“This is a responsible budget and a balanced budget,” Wright said. “It is the result of a lot of hard work on the part of our elected officials, our department heads and staff. We have tried to minimize costs as much as possible.

Said Chairman Wendall Kessler: “It was a lot of work and a lot of time.”

The budget calls for stair-step increases in salaries for county employees and raises for longevity. The number of county employees has shrunk over the last few years, Wright said, as staff members who retire or leave have not been replaced and positions that were not deemed critical went unfilled.

The longevity and stair-step increases are expected to total approximately $308,000. Wright said the existing budget has nearly $100,000 in planned personnel cost reductions and the actual amount was close to $180,000.

“That’s how we are able to do what we are doing in the current budget,” “she said. “We have done that through attrition. We have done that through reassignment of staff. If a particular position had not been filled and we deemed it not to be necessary as one that is crucial in nature, we have not posted those positions. The current budget does propose a reduction in employees, but we have done that through not replacing individuals who have left or retired. Some positions that had not been filled are not going to be necessary.”

Four additional emergency medical technicians and a new ambulance are included in the proposed budget.

“We believe as staff and department heads that there is a need, based on the demographics, for an additional truck,” Wright said.
The four EMTs and ambulance are pegged at $236,000, and the total added personnel costs in this budget over the current plan are $508,000.

The county also has reduced its jail staffing and continues to restructure that, Wright said, getting assistance from a top official at the state Department of Corrections.

“We are looking at the prison levels as to where it needs to be,” she said.

But the classifications of some of the prisoners also is changing, affecting the number of prisoners who can perform maintenance and upkeep on county properties.

Also in the budget is $100,000 for smaller road projects and money for new vehicles. The county bought more than two dozen vehicles for the sheriff’s office last year, financed over five years, and is expected to purchase more vehicles to replace aging cars. The county spent $649,000 for new sheriff’s cars and is putting in about $300,000 for new ECSO cars in this year’s budget.

“This year, we felt we needed to rebuild some of that infrastructure,” Wright said. “We are trying to rebuild within this budget our aging fleet and infrastructure.”

The county fleet also has vehicles that cost a “significant amount to operate” because of their fuel mileage, Wright noted. Included in the budget is $45,000 for general government vehicles. The total cost, Wright said, could be about $60,000 but she also believes the fuel savings will help pay for the difference. The county also has contracted with a different fuel provider, leading to additional savings, she said.

The county has increased its efficiency, Wright said, through more use of technology. The budget also calls for $26,324 for software the tax assessors’ office can use in the field, improving their efficiency and perhaps limiting the need for additional staff.

“We tried to improve our levels of service to our residents,” she said. “We have increases in the consumer price index, so the consumer items we purchase have had increases. We are trying to balance the needs of the growing population here in Effingham County with our existing revenues. With the decline of the digest and the economy, we were able to maintain services as well as could be expected.”

The budget also adds $25,000 for the libraries, though the Live Oak Public Library System asked for $75,000.

Property taxes are expected to bring in approximately $14.8 million in revenue. Wright said the local option sales tax receipts, which make up about 21 percent of the county’s general fund revenue, is expected to increase. Property taxes comprise just over 50 percent of the revenue.

“We are expecting revenues to match expenditures,” she said. “We are not expecting much difference in functional revenues.”

Among expenditures, personnel garners the lion’s share, about 68 percent. Purchases account for 14 percent and supplies total 11 percent of expenses. By government sector, public safety is responsible for 45 percent of the spending, followed by general government for 14 percent and judicial for 11 percent.

Through its special funds, which are backed by the special taxing district, franchise fees and payments in lieu of taxes, among other sources of revenue. The county is asking to add nine firefighters at a cost of $518,000 and also to add to the inspections and zoning staff.
Wright said the expected millage rate will be between the current level of 8.422 and the anticipated rollback rate of 8.336.