SNOW HILL – Requests for salary increases and additional employees highlighted a county budget work session this week.
On Tuesday the Worcester County Commissioners met with a number of department heads to go over the FY2018 budget. As proposed, the $204 million budget leaves commissioners with a $5 million shortfall to address.
Nevertheless, department leaders advocated for a handful of new positions and increased salaries. They say they’re worried about losing employees.
“The rumblings we’re hearing now is that people are trying to find new jobs that pay more …,” said Ken Whited, the county’s maintenance superintendent. “There’s just too much money to be made elsewhere.”
Public safety officials voiced similar concerns. Garry Mumford, warden of the Worcester County Jail, is seeking an additional $244,726 in personnel funding to allow for some promotions and a reclassification of staff. He said the jail was larger now, following a 2010 renovation, and that demands on correctional officers had increased.
“We’re having more incidents because we’re dealing with people who don’t respect our authority,” he said.
Inmates, he explained, are addicted to more substances than ever before. Mumford said correctional officers were the ones who had to interact with today’s “more dangerous, more volatile” inmates.’
“We continue to ask them to do more things, to do more dangerous things,” he said, adding that recent interviews had resulted in a diminished number of applications. “I’m asking you to take care of the ones we have now and recognize the danger they put themselves in.”
Emergency Services Director Fred Webster presented a department budget that includes $2.1 million — a 28 percent increase — for personnel salaries. He told the commissioners that while they were seldom recognized, his employees — who operate the 911 center—were the county’s true first responders.
“I have a highly dedicated staff,” he said. “They go from zero to 1,000 in a split second.”
He referenced a recent high-speed chase county law enforcement had been involved in and explained that his staff had notified other agencies, provided radio patches and monitored the situation. Like Mumford, he said recent job openings had attracted significantly fewer applicants than in years past. He said some individuals had been offered jobs and had turned them down for better offers.
“I’ve got senior people sitting in that 911 center being paid less than you’re paying for a brand new police officer walking in with no credentials, no training,” Webster said. “I’d like to see staff at the 911 center brought up to the level of the other professional first responders we are supporting.”
Lisa Challenger, the county’s tourism director, asked the commissioners to make her department’s part-time social media coordinator a full-time position.
“This is increasingly becoming such an important part of tourism,” she said, adding that millennials made up most of the population. “Millennials communicate on social media.”
Worcester County Economic Development Director Merry Mears included funding for two new positions in her proposed budget. Mears said she was hoping to hire a business development coordinator for the county’s small business incubator as well as an office assistant.
“The demands on our office have greatly increased,” she said.
Mears told the commissioners her department continued to serve a growing number of constituents and had coordinated $6 million in loans for local business owners during the past three years.
The commissioners have a second budget work session scheduled for April 11 and a public hearing May 2.