By Stan Welch
District Two Councilwoman Gracie Floyd pleaded with and challenged her fellow Council members to find the funds necessary to give the county’s approximately 900 employees a raise in the upcoming budget. During a block of time set aside especially for her on the agenda, Floyd raised the issue of employee raises, saying that it has been three years since they had gotten one.
She argued that the county workers depend on Council to be their voice, adding that she was certain that people in the private sector had received raises over the same period.
She queried administrator Rusty Burns about the county fund balance, which is currently at $15 million. “That is essentially a rainy day fund,” explained Burns. “We are at two months operating expenses in reserve, but Council has made it clear that they would like to have three months in reserve. I would prefer four to five months,” said Burns.
The reserve fund has a direct influence on the interest rating of the county, and is always a key factor in the auditor’s report on the county’s finances each year. Nevertheless, Floyd explained that each percentage point that the county’s payroll is raised would require $393,000 to fund. Two points would be $796,000 and the customary three percent would require almost $1.2 million.
Floyd was quick to point out that the Council had spent more than that on legal fees in the four years since 2008, in pursuing its case against former administrator Joey Preston, who ironically received $1.2 million in a severance package given him by the Council in 2008; a package that Floyd voted for.
Councilman Tommy Dunn reminded Floyd that over that three year period, the county had absorbed more than an additional $600,000 in benefits and insurance costs. “I haven’t talked to every county employee, but many of them have told me they would prefer to have their benefits paid than have a raise, because they know that the insurance costs increase much faster than salaries,” said Dunn. He added that those costs will likely increase by $400,000 in the upcoming budget.
In another matter, Councilman Eddie Moore introduced an ordinance that would prohibit smoking on certain county properties. Moore explained that the ordinance would allow the administrator to establish designated smoking areas in the county’s parks, to protect smokers’ rights and the rights of those who don’t smoke.
“This would not ban smoking, but limit it to certain areas,” said Moore, who offered a wealth of statistical information in support of his argument. Councilwoman Floyd stressed the importance of not infringing on the rights of smokers and Councilman Dunn moved to table the ordinance until additional information could be obtained. A discussion ensued, until Floyd reminded Chairman Crowder that a motion to table cannot be discussed, but only voted up or down. It was approved and the motion tabled, with only Moore opposed.