Effingham County commissioners want department heads requesting additional personnel to show that any prospective new employees would pay for themselves.
Commissioners reviewed straightening the pay grades for current employees to make sure they are properly compensated and asked department heads to try to hold personnel requests down.
“I want to take care of the people we’ve got,” Chairwoman Verna Phillips said at the commission’s first meeting this month. “My position is we take care of the employees we have and don’t hire new ones.”
In earlier fiscal year 2008 budget drafts, $500,000 for vehicles was apportioned to special local option sales tax money. Commissioners instructed county staff to return that money to SPLOST funds and find the financing needed in the general budget.
County finance director Joanna Floyd said personnel changes and cuts to the zoning department for aerial photography allowed them to rebalance the budget. They also cut about $50,000 out of recreation.
Yet there could be problems in funding seasonal hires, now that the minimum wage has increased and county rec director Clarence Morgan has asked for more help.
“He asked for additional staffing for some of the all-star games and different tournaments he wanted to do this year,” County Administrator Ed Williams said.
In budget discussions last month, Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie told commissioners he was willing to sacrifice a handful of requested positions if he could get a detective dedicated to verifying the sex offender registry.
“Sheriff had said he understood what we had to do,” Phillips said, “but he really needed that detective for the sex offender registry.”
Sanitation director Connie Burns made a plea for a landfill operator, someone with a commercial driver’s license who can drive the recycling truck around the county. Burns said she will talk to the school system about using a bus driver part-time, since bus drivers have CDLs.
“It’s a nightmare (driving the truck),” she said.
“I’ve fought this for three years. I’ve had to beg and borrow. Now we’re in a situation where we need somebody.”
Burns said Effingham County Prison Warden Ronald Spears has had trouble providing an inmate with a CDL.
“Plus, they may not be able to use it, and they may not be able to go on school grounds,” Burns said.
Assistant County Administrator David Crawley, who oversees zoning, asked for help in that department with soil erosion control associated with land disturbing permits. The fees for land disturbing permits are $40 per acre.
“There’s only two people certified to do that,” he said. “And that’s me and (county engineer Steve Liotta).”
Crawley said that not this year, but next year, that position could pay for itself.
“I need somebody to do the work,” he said.
Crawley said a state inspection of the zoning department did not go well because of a lack of staff.
They are required to inspect every subdivision and construction site for soil erosion and there are 25-30 sites under construction now, Crawley said.
“That person would be devoted to that 100 percent,” he said. “If you delete the position, I’ll lose the ability to collect the fee.”
Animal Control director April Bauman also made a pitch for another officer, eliminating a kennel assistant in the process. The move would cost an extra $10,000 over having the kennel assistant.
“Our department really needs an extra officer,” she said. “We can’t keep up with our demands. We can spend up to two hours on a welfare check. It’s really a burden on our facility not having another officer. It’s impossible to keep up with the population.”
Keeping up with the growing number of people and the demands for services could be a problem for a while. There are about 360 county employees for a population of nearly 46,000, according to county figures.
“The problem we have is the ratio of employees to the population,” Williams said. “There are operations that have difficulty providing service as the population grows.”
But commissioners are hesitant to add people to the county workforce.
“Everybody is up in arms about the cost of government,” Phillips said. “Our biggest expense is employees.”
“I hate to keep adding people and putting it on the back of taxpayers,” 1st District Commissioner Hubert Sapp said. “I think it’s come to a point where they are tired of it and I can’t support it.”
Commissioners also looked at bringing pay grades into alignment and at pay raises for current employees.
“When we were growing, some people were hired at a rate that whoever in administration felt like paying,” Williams said.
Floyd said some employees’ positions needed to be regarded because their pay was totally out of kilter. She also said Williams has suggested the county conduct a regrade and salary study.
“It’s just as important to maintain those positions as it is to keep the budget under control,” she said. “The more people you lose, the more you have to train, and you lose money. It costs you money, it costs you morale, it costs you a lot of different things you don’t see on paper.”
Floyd said if the county was able to cut the budget even further, that money would be put into roads or buildings.
The county also may have underestimated its fuel costs for the coming budget year. Current projections call for gas costs to be $55,000-$60,000 a month, but last month’s bill hit $77,000.
“We had several items this year that weren’t budgeted, and we’re still digging out from those,” Floyd said.