County budget hearings continue

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 4/25/18

The Bradley County government’s budget process continued yesterday with budget hearings for several departments and organizations funded through taxpayer dollars.

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County budget hearings continue

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Bradley County government’s budget process continued Tuesday, with budget hearings for several departments and organizations funded through taxpayer dollars.

The Bradley County Commission’s Finance Committee met with Circuit Court Clerk Gayla Harris, Bradley County Juvenile Court Director Vickie Towne, Bradley County Emergency Medical Services Director Shawn Fairbanks, and representatives from the Museum Center at Five Points and MainStreet Cleveland. The meeting began with discussion of departments with full-time positions earning less than $25,000: chancery court, circuit court clerk’s office, Bradley County Health Department, juvenile detention, county mayor’s office, Bradley County Parks & Recreation and the Bradley County Road Department.

Commissioner Thomas Crye said Bradley County has full-time employees earning a salary that would qualify them for food stamps, which is why he wanted to discuss it at the budget hearing. He asked representatives from each department about any positions they have that aren’t filled as well as if they have requested salary increases for their employees. The department representatives said they have never included salary increases in their budgets.

“We’re trying to help but we’re constrained by the amount of revenue coming in,” Crye said.

Commissioner Dan Rawls commented that since he has been on the Finance Committee he has understood the department heads include in their budgets what they want for salary increases and it’s “not the commission’s job” to give raises. He also mentioned wanting to see job descriptions for the positions paid less than $25,000 and “what that job pays in the private sector.” Rawls added it is up to department heads to make their case for salary increases for their employees.

“My office is constricted because I turn all my money over” to the county and other elected officials aren’t required to, Harris said. “I turned $30 million over and never got anything out of it.”

Harris added “we’ve been told not to put it (pay increases) in our budget.”

“The message is do not add increases into your budget,” she said.

County Mayor D. Gary Davis said the department heads’ instructions are to not include pay raises because the county commission will determine any pay increase.

“They are told what she’s saying,” Davis said, adding the elected officials pretty much follow the letter of agreement that is part of each year’s budget.

Davis added he doesn’t set salaries and neither does the commission, but the commission can approve pay raises. However, he is concerned about “screwing up the ball game by playing with payroll” because it could affect employee morale. Davis said a salary increase for all employees would be OK to consider, but he is concerned about picking and choosing which employees to give raises to so they can earn $25,000.

“You need to give a lot of thought to this,” Davis said.

Harris said in the 11 years she has been circuit court clerk she has been told not to add salary increases to her budget. She added that she thinks her staff would be happy with an across-the-board increase rather than singling out individuals.

Finance Committee Chairman Milan Blake said “we want to do something” about salaries, but commissioners will have to proceed carefully.

In other discussion:

• Bradley County EMS requested a budget of $5,804,325, which is a 3.84 percent increase, or $214,478. Requests include: $39,346.80 STEP increases; $125,000 for repairs to the station of Paul Huff Parkway, $18,612 for equipment updates; $340,000 for two ambulance rechassis; and $82,000 for one ambulance van for convalescent transports.

Projected revenue for the 2018-2019 fiscal year is $5 million, which is $100,000 more than the projected $4.9 million current year budget.

Blake said he wanted to talk about the revenue side of the budget and asked if a new billing system has met expectations. Bradley County EMS Director Shawn Fairbanks said he is getting no complaints from office staff and “revenue is up.”

Fairbanks added that a law was passed at the state level that supplements TennCare payments for EMS services, which has resulted in between $448,000 to $526,000 in revenue per month.

Davis said that to correct some staffing issues at EMS, it looks like the $82,000 for the convalescent transport van will be pulled from the budget but could return “maybe next year.”

• Bradley County Circuit Court Clerk requested a budget of $1,474,633, which is an increase of $10,044 over the current fiscal year. Requests included $10,000 for courtroom technology requested by Judge Andrew Freiberg; $2,663 increase in office supplies; and $10,607 increase in office equipment (fire replacement costs of furniture).

Revenue projections for the 2018-2019 fiscal year are $1,954,275, which represents a 3.3 percent decrease from the current year.

• Bradley County Juvenile Services requested a budget of $905,946, which is a 41 percent increase of $264,182 over the current fiscal year. Requests include multiple infrastructure needs like $165,000 to replace a generator; $46,000 to replace five HVAC units; and $18,469 for maintenance.

In addition, revenue projections of $143,210 are down by 33 percent from the current year.

• Museum Center at Five Points requested $16,000, which is a $1,000 increase to its $15,000 current fiscal year budget.

• Mainstreet Cleveland requested $22,000, which is a $2,000 increase over the $20,000 current fiscal year budget.

No final decisions were made during the budget hearings and no votes were cast during the session. The Finance Committee’s next meeting is set for Monday, May 7, at noon in the mayor’s conference room of the Bradley County Courthouse Annex.

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