SNOW HILL – Preliminary cuts made by the county’s finance team simplified this week’s budget work session for the Worcester County Commissioners.
In spite of the $6.6 million deficit facing officials at the start of the budget process, county staff presented the commissioners with a balanced budget this week that spends approximately $199 million. A committee made up of Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins, Budget Officer Kathy Whited and Finance Officer Phil Thompson spent the past several weeks adjusting the county’s proposed spending plan.
“To the defense of the department heads, we really grilled them,” Higgins said. “The finance team did not take the task lightly.”
Because of the committee’s work reducing the proposed fiscal year 2018 spending plan, the commissioners spent Tuesday’s work session reviewing and adjusting the committee’s changes. While much of the discussion focused on the county’s contributions to area nonprofits, new employees requested by the county’s department heads were also a hot topic. The commissioners approved funding for just one of the three new deputies requested by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office. They opted not to include funding for any of the four part-time court deputies requested by the sheriff’s office.
“Are they that shorthanded?” Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw said.
Stacey Norton, the county’s human resources director, said the request was based on the volume of cases that were being handled in the courthouse. She added that one of the existing deputies had been on medical leave since he was hired.
The commissioners voted unanimously to support Lockfaw’s motion to continue with the existing number of court deputies.
In consideration of the four new roads employees requested in the proposed budget, the commissioners talked about the demands on the department.
“Their phones stay ringing,” Lockfaw said.
Commissioner Bud Church agreed and said the amount of trash thrown out along area roads had increased.
“Our county roads are getting more trashed every day,” he said. “We’re a resort area. We have to appeal to the folks that are coming in. Some of the areas I represent are a pure embarrassment to the county.”
Church recommended that funding be included in the budget for at least two of the requested workers. The commissioners voted 5-2 to approve funding for two new roads workers.
The commissioners also opted to cut Worcester County Economic Development Department’s hiring request. They voted unanimously not to include funding for a new business development coordinator in the budget.
While the commissioners cut many of the new positions included in the budget, they agreed to support the county’s current employees with a salary increase. The commissioners approved a step increase as well as a 1 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).
“All we have is our employees,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said. “They represent us in the field every day and interact with our constituents probably more than we do.”
Mitrecic added, however, that he did not support the concept of longevity raises. He said that when someone took a job they were advised of the salary steps associated with it and shouldn’t be compensated further when they were “stepped out.” He suggested eliminating the $75,500 in the budget for that purpose.
Commissioner Diana Purnell pointed out that an employee had to work for the county for 20 years before they’d even receive the $500 longevity raise.
“You don’t want to give them a bonus?” she said.
The commissioners voted 6-1 for a motion to include a step increase and 1 percent COLA in the budget but to eliminate the longevity bonus. Purnell was opposed.
Though there were originally dates set aside for three budget work sessions, the commissioners completed their modifications this week. They’re expected to adopt the $199 million budget June 6.