County Manager Mike Dobbs argued in favor of a 1 percent raise during a budget meeting Tuesday, saying it would promote employee morale and retention. He said LaGrange was looking at its usual 5 percent raise and county employees have never gotten that much.
County employees received 2.2 percent last year, but that was largely because of high gas prices, said Commissioner Morris Jones, noting that prices have since come back down.
“I thank all of our employees. They do a terrific job,” Jones said, but he said they can do without a pay increase for 12 months since their benefits will stay the same and jobs are scarce in the current economy.
He said the county shouldn’t have any retention problems because “you may have 1,000 people applying for the same job. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Commissioner Ken Smith said Milliken & Co. is fast closing down and “people are graduating out the ying-yang who don’t have a job.”
“Are we to believe somebody would give up this benefit package and their career” over a 1 percent raise? he asked.
Commission Chairman Ricky Wolfe said he doesn’t see how the county could justify an increase in salaries, including his and the other commissioners’. By state law, Wolfe earns $9,801.48 per year and the other four commissioners earn $8,611.46.
The board agreed to review the pay issue in six months if, as Wolfe said, “there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.”
The county’s projected $2 million deficit in the upcoming budget was reduced it to $734, 000 in April. An additional $300,000 revenue for the general fund and $300,000 for reserves will come from savings on the county’s medical and dental plan.
County finance officer Stewart Mills said the tax digest is expected to grow 0.8 percent, significantly less than usual, because of a lack of new construction and declining property values. He projects the local-option sales tax will drop by $150,000, the county’s investment income by $87,000, and court fines are forfeitures by $592,000 or 33 percent.
In State Court, the number of traffic tickets has dropped by 1,000 since 2006 when budget cuts at the state Capitol forced a few prolific ticket-writing state troopers off the road in Troup County.
A state-mandated 5 percent add-on to court fines pays for the county’s three victim-witness advocates, but the fund has shrunk because of the reduced number of traffic tickets. Court administrator Sheryl Hicks said she will apply for a grant of $50,000 to $60,000 from President Obama’s stimulus package to help make up the shortage.
“The purpose of the grant is to keep people working,” Hicks said.
Work-release fees are expected to drop about $150,000 in the next fiscal year because a lot of inmates aren’t finding jobs. Landfill fees at the county’s construction and demolition dump in Mountville will drop an estimated $353,000.
“Folks are not demolishing and not building, ” said Commissioner Richard English. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
The county’s reserve fund averages $12 million, but “I don’t want to make it look like we have that to spend,” Commissioner Smith said.
The county uses reserves to operate the government without borrowing money while awaiting property tax receipts in November, and to pay for big-ticket items such as acquiring right of way for the South Loop highway.
The budget, which anticipates no change in the current 10.56-mill property tax rate, is scheduled to be adopted June 9.
Joel Martin can be reached at jmartin@ lagrangenews. com or 706-884-7311, Ext. 235.