Commissioners discuss employee raises
The Jones County Board of Commissioners set the county’s millage rate last week with no increase for taxpayers.
Board chairman Chris Weidner called the Aug. 30 meeting to order that was scheduled to set the tax rate, and Jones County’s chief financial officer, Lavita Crutchfield, went over the budget numbers. She said the value of the county’s tax digest is $686,431,825, and the value of a mill is $686,432.
The value of the tax digest was up 1.5 percent over last year.
The county is required by law to have a balanced budget, which means the revenues must equal expenses. The proposed expenditures for the next budget year were $20,186,513, and the estimated receipts from other revenue sources are $8,935,871.
The bottom line of all that is how much money will be needed from property taxes to balance the budget, and that amount is $11,250,642.
After the rollback for the one-cent local option sales tax, the millage rate remained 17.649 for the incorporated area of the county, which includes the City of Gray, and 16.197 mills in the unincorporated area.
The rate for the unincorporated area in the county is lower because of an additional 2.553 mill insurance premium rollback. The additional tax rate for River North is 1.33 mills.
At the time the vote was called, only three commissioners were present. Those commissioners were Sam Kitchens, Tommy Robinson and Weidner, and they voted to adopt the tax rate.
A budget workshop was held before the meeting to discuss budget appropriations for capital projects requested by department heads. All five of Jones County’s Commissioners were in attendance at the workshop.
County Administrator Jason Rizner told board members that the staff had gone over the budget to make sure all expenses were covered, and one employee position had been left off. He said the available funds for capital projects were $981,000.
Rizner said all the commissioners agreed upon a 4 percent raise for county employees, but a decision was needed to determine the method for the raises.
Kitchens said he had proposed a 2 percent cost of living raise with the remaining 2 percent a merit increase to be determined by the department head. He said his fear with a total merit raise was the fairness of the evaluation process.
The commissioner said, however, he decided the board needed to trust the department heads and he would be ok with the 4 percent merit increase as long as the process was well documented.
“It must be justified,” Kitchens said.
Weidner said he reached out to department heads for their input and received mixed ideas. He said he knew employees would be paying more for their health insurance, which the 2 percent cost of living increase would not cover.
Robinson said he had always been a believer in merit increases.
“COLA raises guarantee bad employees get raises. People who work the hardest should be rewarded,” he said.
Commissioner Daylon Martin said he was a fan of merit raises, but an employee who received zero with that method should not be there. He said he, too, was concerned that employees were going to pay more for their health insurance.
“I’m in favor of the 2 percent cost of living and 2 percent merit this year. Let’s get more efficient and go all merit next year,” he said.
Weidner asked if any department heads would like to share their opinions.
Emergency Management Director and County Fire Chief Don Graham suggested any employee who had been disciplined or written up should not receive a raise.
Parks and Recreation Director Matt Goins said the commissioners should trust the department heads to do their jobs.
“If we fall short, you can hold our feet to the fire,” he said.
Zoning Officer Tim Pitrowski said he was in favor of a combination of COLA and merit. Building Maintenance Director Bobby Bonner and Water Superintendent Jeffrey Pehlke were in favor of merit increases.
“Raises should be an incentive for employees; they need it. The weight is on the department head to do it fairly. We want the good employees to stay,” Pehlke said.
Weidner asked Rizner for his opinion, and he said he was generally in favor of merit increases.
“But I think we need to consider cost of living increases periodically,” the administrator said. “We also need merit to motivate and reward those going above and beyond.”
Weidner suggested the board look through the project list and pull out the ones that were necessary. He said the rest of the funds could be put in contingency and done as needed.
Commissioner Jonathan Pitts said he was in favor of giving taxpayers a onequarter-mill reduction, and then he passed out a list of priority projects. The commissioner’s list included the projects favored by a majority of board members in the previous meeting.
The total of those projects as calculated by the clerk of the board was $830,256.
Martin said the board talks about projects that are not done each year, but the budget continues to get bigger. His suggestion was a raise for the employees but not do anything else for the year.
Robinson said he felt security for the Government Center was a must.
Maj. Barbara Burnette with the Jones County Sheriff’s Department approached the board with an idea for the security position. She suggested the commissioners hire a part-time person for security for the building three days a week and use an off-duty officer for the other two days.
She said that way the board would not have to pay benefits, and off-duty officers would not be hard to find.
Rizner had a suggestion for the floor care on the project list. He said he spoke to Goins, and parks and recreation employees could perform the work at an estimated annual cost of $8,000, an $18,000 savings from the proposed amount.
Martin spoke about the need for a competition track for Highway 49 that was approved on the SPLOST ballot. He said the track had been authorized by the previous board.
Pitts said what was authorized was a walking track. He said the allocated SPLOST funds would not pay for a competition track.
Martin said it was enough to pay for the track itself, and that was all he was asking for.
Kitchens said he agreed that basketball courts were needed on Highway 49, but he said, if a competition track were constructed in the county, it should be a combined effort with the schools.
Weidner added the idea of a nature walk near the Mattie Wells gym.
Martin said the county had a thriving recreational track program despite not having a good track.
“We have 70-80 kids. If we built a track, it would be a stronger program,” he said. “If you can’t support this, I can’t support anything else.”
Martin left after the workshop was adjourned.
A public hearing was held at 6:15 p.m. following the 6 p.m. meeting to set the millage. No one opted to speak at the hearing.
Rizner said the 2019 budget would be adopted at a called meeting at 6 p.m., Sept. 6. He explained the meeting to set the budget was required to be seven days after the millage rate was set.