Polk County Budget Committee work included a motion to eliminate all additional employee requests and reduce the raise for county employees to 72¢ decreased the budget’s cut number from $905,000 to just over $52,000. Money added to the election budget on Monday raised that number a bit. Commissioners still need to eliminate $60,000 to avoid a tax increase. Mark Bishop motioned to set the county’s funding levels back to what they were at the beginning of 2015-2016, then add a 60¢ raise. Bishop said employees had not had a rise in a long time. He said the state gave 3% last year, but if they did a percentage it would keep broadening the gap. Sheena Gaddis asked if the Election Commission would go back to 2014-2015 levels.
Karen Bracken asked what the raise would cost. Bishop said 60¢ would be roughly $1248 per year for each employee. He said the commission should still look at the some of what the road department was asking for, and that the bridges could be paid for as a one-time expense. Bracken said it wouldn’t make sense to give up those matching finds and not take care of that. Hoyt Firestone asked about part-time workers. He said they did not always get the same raise in the past. Bishop said it would be the same increase but less hours. He said they should treat everybody the same. John Hoyt Pippenger made a motion to amend Bishop’s motion to a 75¢ raise. That motion failed. Mike Curbow made a motion to amend it to 72¢. That motion passed.
Bracken told the board they needed to add $18,000 to the budget for the Office of Elections. She said they could not give less money than they gave two years ago, the last time there was two elections. Election Administrator Steve Gaddis said he was good with what he got last year. Bracken said it didn’t matter what he was good with, it was what the law said. Gaddis said he was not showing a major difference in the two years. He said his figure was different than Bracken’s. Firestone pointed out there was a capital project for the Election office last year. Bishop said the budget for the election office was $243,304 in 2014-15. He said last year’s budget was $213,854 and this year was $215,177. He said it would be wise to go ahead and add the money for the second election, pointing out it was brought up when he made the motion for raises at the previous meeting. Pippenger asked if there would be any reimbursement from the presidential election. Firestone said that only came from Super Tuesday, not the November election. Gaddis asked if a new line item would have to be put in for liability insurance, which was brought up during the regular monthly commission meeting. Firestone said the premium was $3326, and a line would have to be added to that budget. Bishop asked how they would need to spread the money being put into the election budget. Steve Gaddis suggested putting it under contract services and election workers.
Bracken said the Sheriff’s Department line for guards had been amended last year for more than $60,000, but was set at the same amount this year. She said the line was being underfunded and they would pay the price at the end of the year with amendments from the fund balance. Bishop pointed out the sheriff’s office had exceeded what was budgeting for revenue, and brought in $100,000. He said they may have hit the fund balance, but the amount of revenue brought in covered the guards.
Bracken said 2.5 employees had been brought on at the sheriff’s department that were not budgeted. She said she looked at it ever different way possible, but the difference was $65,000, which was equal to 2.5 employees. Amanda Maples said they never added those employees. Bracken said unless Maples could show her differently, they were added. She said she asked Maples to sit down with her to review information she sent, but Maples never followed up. Maples said she sent Bracken a list of employees. She said some had been moved to part-time. Joe Price suggested Bracken should speak to the Sheriff since it was his department. Bracken said Maples never told her to talk to the Sheriff. Price said he was telling her now. Firestone said the county had added close to $3 million to the fund balance this year and they should leave the pennies alone. He suggested the commission give them a chance to follow their budget.
Pippenger said if they raised the percentage of collections to 91% they could cover the amount left to cut in the budget. Bracken suggested lowering the raise to 60¢ would compensate for the difference. Pippenger asked if there was a request for Parks and Rec. Bishop said Diana Burris had asked about one, but he told her it was too tight this year. He said he thought with the walking trail coming in there would be more traffic at the ballfields and it might cut down on the vandalism. Bishop said work needed to be done on both sides, and suggested the area around the pool in Ducktown needed work.
Pippenger made a motion to raise the percent of collections to 91% to cover the $60,000 needed for the budget, and give $19,800 to Parks and Rec. Cheryl Buehler asked what percentage of collections had been coming in. Pippenger said a little more than 90%. Buehler asked if the $19,800 would cover the requested library position; Pippenger said no. Jenny Rogers said money for Parks and Rec was great, but that public libraries give people opportunities to find jobs, improve their skills, get training, and achieve a better financial situation. She pointed out that Polk ranks 95th in the state for funding. She said the county that ranked 94th spent almost double what Polk spent.
Rogers reminded the commission they had two library facilities the county did not pay a dime for. She said Friends of the Library paid for maintenance, and the only thing the county had to pay for was salaries.
Nicholas Lewis said the library request was a minute number compared to the rest of the budget. He asked when the last time the Governor’s wife rolled in to the county, pointing out she came to visit the library. Lewis said the county had held stagnant and it was time to move forward. He said he came back to the county after college and wanted to fix things. He said it was time not to just hold the tax rate the same. Lewis said the county needed to build education and build industry. He said more education meant more productive people. Bracken asked what advantages there would be to having a library director. Rogers said they would be able to take the time to apply for grants. She said the two part-time librarians now were too busy checking out books and doing their jobs to do anything more. Rogers said they ask year after year for help with the libraries and that we could not improve if not given opportunities.
Rogers said the library was losing patrons because they did not have anyone there to work with people one-on-one. She said people struggle every day with computers and they could offer classes to teach them. Rogers said she wished the board would go into the libraries and see who all came in.
Rogers said the two libraries had four part-time librarians. She said a library system can’t be run that way. Lewis said Polk spent $4.83 per capita, and surrounding counties spent $10.48 per capita. Both Rogers and Lewis said they understood Polk would never be able to afford that, but that the library was the life blood of every county. Bishop suggested there were teenagers who needed service hours who could teach classes at the library. He said the county needed to bring in industry.
Kayla Curbow said she used to worked at the Cleveland Public Library and had seen how much people love their library. She said teenagers were not reliable and would stop as soon as they got their hours. She said coming from college there were people who don’t know programs like Microsoft Word, and couldn’t learn from their parents because their parents didn’t know. Curbow said libraries helped more than just kids.
Pippenger pointed out his motion to give money to Parks and Rec was because the county could give one-time funding, and the library position would have to be included continuously. Rogers said industry would look at the adequacy of public libraries, pointing out that the third question asked by Saturn when they moved to Spring Hill was about public libraries. Sheena Gaddis asked if the raise could be adjust to 60¢ to fund the library position. Rogers said she didn’t want to take from the raises and the employees needed a living wage. Gaddis said she didn’t like the gap in pay or want to have to do a huge increse, and thought doing multiple small increases would be better. The motion to raise collections to 91% and fund Parks and Rec failed. Buster Lewis made a motion to increase the tax 4¢ and give 3¢ to the road department and 1¢ to the libraries. That motion failed. The committee is slated to meet again Tuesday, July 26th.