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County gives 5 percent pay raise

Butler County commissioners recently approved the 2003-04 fiscal year budget for the county, giving county employees an "across-the-board" 5 percent pay increase, but little else.

The total budget for this year is $8,730,011, compared to last year's budget, which was a little more than $7 million.

Commissioner Daniel Robinson said he was satisfied with the commission's budget.

"We are going to have to tighten our belts in all departments, and make sure we stay in line with what the Commission has come up with, though," he said. "We looked at each department, and tried to give them what they needed. We don't know what's going to happen at the state level, whether they are going to make cuts in a lot of areas, so that may affect how tight things get. Still, we tried to fund everyone that we've funded over the years, and help out some of the others that we could."

All but two commissioners voted to approve the new budget. Commissioners Frank Hickman and Jessie McWilliams said they felt the new budget was too tight, and wanted to opt for a 3 percent pay increase.

"With us not knowing what the state is going to do and with the economy still uncertain, I think it would have been better to give the 3 percent, and give the budget a little "wiggle room," McWilliams said. "I agree that our employees work hard and deserve to get something, but I just didn't want to take the chance that someone would come to us and really need help, and because our budget is so tight, we can't help them."

Hickman echoed McWilliams sentiment.

"With the predictions of gloom and doom and the flat revenue rates we have had, I was under the impression that there would be no raises in Butler County this year," he said. "I thought we were going to use this next year to catch our breath and try to build some reserves, if possible, in our budget for any down time that may occur. We don't know what's going to come out of Montgomery this year, and won't know until after we adopt this budget."

He said he also agreed that the employees deserved a raise, but was unsure if the full 5 percent was wise. He also wanted to opt for the 3 percent raise.

Commission Chairman William Phillips recommended the 5 percent pay raise and felt comfortable with that decision.

"I've looked at [the numbers], and thought about it," he said. "I know the state is in a lot of trouble, but the county has handled its finances pretty well. We are staying the black with our finances, and we'll still be there with a 5 percent pay raise. We've been on the low side [with our revenues] for three years. I feel we can scrape on through this year, and still help everybody a little bit."

On the department side, most department heads realized the state of the county's revenues, and were conservative with their budget requests.

Tax Collector Belle Peavy and Tax Assessor Carolyn Middleton both requested a 5 percent pay raise for their departments, but mainly kept their operating budgets level with last year's.

"I was satisfied with what we got," Peavy said. "I understand that the commission needs to be cautious with finances right now."

Peavy's department received a slight increase to offset the costs of moving her department to the new location in the old Voter Registrar office.

Probate Judge Steve Norman also kept his budget request level with last year's, except for additional funding that will be necessary to implement the new One-Stop Tag system that will be in place for the new year.

"We have some renovations that will be necessary to get that in place," Norman said. "Other than that, we haven't asked for anything additional."

County Engineer Dennis McCall, the road department's supervisor, said his department was "topped out," and there was no more room for increases without the county adding money to his budget.

His department is primarily funded through gasoline taxes and federal road and bridge monies.

"If my payroll is to handle a 5 percent increase, it will have to come from the commission's general fund," McCall said.

The county opted to suspend the reimbursement of "borrowed" money the road department received last year to accommodate the pay increase.

Sheriff Diane Harris said she was definitely disappointed her requests for a significant increase in funding for pay, equipment and medical expenses went mostly unheeded by the commission.

She had requested a 25 percent pay increase for her deputies and staff, and an increase from $45,000 to $87,000 for medical and dental expenses. The sheriff also requested five new patrol cruisers be purchased to replace the high mileage vehicles in her current fleet.

"I'm disappointed in [my budget] because we went overbudget on medical expenses at the jail last year," Harris said. "Last year they put $45,000 in medical and dental for the jail, and it went over n to almost $87,000. This year they've put it at $50,000. That's only $5,000 more than it was last year, and I've told them I have no control over that."