County looks for a way to fund employee pay increase
Published 10:00 am Wednesday, April 26, 2017
LaGRANGE – The Troup County Board of Commissioners continued its discussion on Tuesday about the county pay study that was released during last week’s work session.
The results of the study show a clear need to pay employees at a higher rate in order to avoid losing good employees to other, better paying, governments. That realization, however, came with the question of how the county will pay for a salary increase for its employees.
The pay increase is expected to cost the county $1,341,652, which would be a significant increase in the county budget. The budget already holds employee pay as its most expensive budget item making up roughly 80 percent of county spending. That increase would only cover 95 percent of the total recommended increase which the commissioners hope to revisit at a later date once they have a better solution for funding.
“We are down to basically three options, and one option is obviously to raise the millage rate to cover the costs,” said County Manager Tod Tentler. “That would be ¾ of a mil. The other option is to take it out of reserve. That option won’t work, but maybe for one year, and then you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to fund it.
“The other option that we lost out on was the OLOST, where we hoped that we would be able to get the money to do this, but that didn’t make it through the state legislature, so that option is out. Our only other option is to reduce expenditures by reducing services.”
The commissioners unanimously agreed that county employees should receive better pay, and of the options available, one was favored more heavily than the others.
“Speaking for all the commissioners, I think it has been our plan all along to take a really hard look at what our employees make, and we think the right thing to do is to fairly compensate our employees,” said Chairman Patrick Crews. “It has been a long time coming, but when we authorized the study, we were committed to making sure that we got a good study and knew exactly what our employees need to be making for the job that they do, so I’m glad to that point that we’ve identified that number, and we don’t have any plans to put it in a desk drawer.
“We plan to act upon it… I’m committed to do everything that I could to avoid raising property taxes, and if that means being more efficient – we’ve talked a lot about efficiency today – and so my charge for you (on staff) would be to look at being more efficient, and reduce services and those expenses.”
Several of the county commissioners expressed disappointment at the failure of the state legislature to make the Other Local Option Sales Tax possible, as they believed the sales tax would have received more public support then a millage increase without the possible drawbacks of a cut to services. The OLOST would have made it possible for the county to fund the pay increase for employees, including those at the sheriff’s office, through a sales tax much like the special-purpose, local-option sales tax that will be on this November’s ballot but is limited to strictly capital improvements.
“The district that I represent, I feel like the millage rate increase would not be well received at all and looking at where we need to be as far as public service and other employee increases I think that it is imperative… that we move forward in that way,” said Commissioner Ellis Cadenhead.
Cadenhead also proposed possible cost-cutting measures like using video conferencing in the courts to cut down on the cost of transportation, though the final decision on that measure would be up to the judges. The commissioners also agreed that it would be difficult to find cost cutting measures to make up funds in excess of $1.3 million, but generally, they were not in favor of a property tax increase.
“I think that the easiest thing to do would be to raise the millage rate, but what my people expect me to do is to look in ways to save money and cut costs where it is needed,” said Commissioner Lewis Davis. “On the other hand, I also made the commitment that I wanted to help public safety, and I wanted to make sure that we retain good employees, and keep these good guys here that we’ve got, and make sure that they can make a living wage. That is important to me. … I want to unfortunately look at reductions in services because that is not an easy answer – I know it is going to hurt some people – but I think we have to look at the majority of the county citizens and the majority of county employees.”
In fact, only one commissioner took a stand in favor or raising county property taxes in order to fund the change.
“I am not for cutting services,” said Commissioner Richard English. “I am here to give the constituents, the tax payers, and I’m for raising taxes because that is the only way we can get money, and I’m not for cutting service. I’m not for reducing what we’ve got. We’re a growing county, and we need to continue to grow. … I’m for doing what we need to do for the employees and raising taxes whether it is ¾ of a mill or a mill.”
A mill equals $1 in taxes per $1,000 in taxable value, so an increase of ¾ of a mill would equate to an increase of $75 to the property tax on a property worth $100,000.
“Back in 2002, when we did a study on salaries – and I don’t want to go back to ’02 because if you look at what’s happened from ’02 to ’17 – this county has done nothing but put band aids on the salaries as far as whether we can give an increase in salary or whether we can change classifications to help employees out,” said Commissioner Morris Jones, who expressed caution at raising the millage rate. “I think it is time for us to step forward, and to move with this pay study that we’ve got, but at the same time – I understand where Richard (English) is coming from – but I’d like the management to first look to see if there is anything in there that we can look at and dig in to see what can be balanced out before I even think about looking… in that direction.”
Despite the general agreement that the funds should come from services, the commissioners were quick to clarify that public safety services would remain untouched, though which services would receive cuts were still up for consideration.
“I’ll do everything I can do and our staff will do whatever that we can do to look at reducing services, cut off money to make sure that we can pay for this,” said Tentler. “Now understand, that these cuts in services are going to hurt because as you heard in the presentation on the salary survey, we are pretty lean on employees number wise, and 80 percent of our budget is employees, so in order to cut services, the citizens are going to feel – as Richard (English) said – you are going to take a step backwards on some of the services that you provide, but I firmly believe that our employees deserve it. They’ve done a great job of doing more with less for many, many years.”
The commissioners asked that the county manager look into what services could be reduced or what millage changes would be needed prior to the next commission meeting where they plan to discuss the budget on May 4 at 3 p.m. at 100 Ridley Ave.
Reach Alicia B. Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 706-884-7311, ext. 2154.