Board of Commissioners adopt modified budget By Shannon Sneed

The Putnam County Board of Commissioners nixed an advertised budget prepared by the county manager and instead voted 3-2 on Sept. 19 for the adoption of a budget proposed by District 4 Commissioner Trevor Addison. Addison promised in a meeting held earlier this month, where the board decided 3-2 not to raise property taxes, to present a FY 2018 budget modified from the version originally announced. The approved budget cuts some personnel positions requested by department heads, but in turn grants $50,000 to the sheriff’s office to close some of the salary gap that department has compared to offices in surrounding counties. Instead of the originally proposed 3 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA), Addison presented a 1 percent COLA across the board. Explaining the reasons for allotting those funds to the sheriff’s office, Addison noted the raise was not a COLA nor was it a merit increase. “It’s not because I believe a sheriff deputy ought to do better work than a firefighter or EMT or someone in our public works department or our finance department,” said Addison. “It’s simply an effort to work to remedy a problem that we have all heard and seen.” Commission Chairman Dr. Steve Hersey said that contributing $50,000 to the sheriff’s department would not mandate that Sheriff Howard Sills use those funds to raise staff salaries. Addison said he understood that any constitutional officer has the right to do what they want with their budget once the board sets the number. “However, he’s also an elected official,” said Addison. “That’s where his responsibility comes in as an elected official, as the sheriff of this county, to do whatever it is he feels his employees and the people who elected him need him to do.” Approved by Addison and Commissioners Kelvin Irvin and Daniel Brown, the adopted budget does not fund an originally proposed EMT/paramedic position, a part time position or intern for the recreation department or part time summer help for the finance department. A purchase for a van for the extension center and a $12,000 incinerator for animal control was also removed from the advertised budget. Addison did add $20,000 to the budget for courthouse maintenance to include painting, replacing rotten wood, boards and trim and pressure washing. “As I toured the courthouse lately, it is somewhat obvious that we have neglected that area,” said Addison. “We need to do what we can to try to remedy that problem.” Those changes mean $1.75 million, instead of the originally proposed $2 million, would be drawn from the fund balance fund. “Being that I certainly opposed the mill rate increase, my goal was where to draw the line,” said Addison. “Well, I drew the line at the general fund with $1.75 million and with that I had to make some tough decisions as we all do when preparing our budget.” Commissioner Alan Foster, who argued for keeping the EMT position, along with a few other changes, moved to adopt his own modified budget, but the motion failed to pass, with him and Hersey only agreeing to those changes. “We started out with an additional $8 million in requests,” said Foster. “It took a lot of hard work to get to where we are today.” Brown announced to the audience that the principal thought behind the budget changes was “since some of the blows our economy has had in revenue source, we’re working hard to get our bearings and spend your money like it was ours and come up with a plan,” he said. “We’re definitely not picking winners and losers, we are trying to make the best decisions we can.” Hersey noted he disagreed with Brown’s comment that they were not choosing winners and losers. “Because we certainly are by giving one constitutional office a bonus of $50,000.” “My biggest issue is that you’re moving away from what I consider the responsibilities of this board, going into an inappropriate level of micromanagement,” said Hersey, also noting he disagreed with looking at individual line items and making decisions about whether those line items should or should not be funded. Irvin questioned why the original budget was posted in the paper before the commissioners had any review of it. Hersey answered that the procedure involved budget hearings where each department’s constitutional officer made a presentation. “In past years during those sessions, the county manager would ask if there are changes board members would like to see,” advised Hersey. “My recollection is that we did not follow that process this year (during those budget hearings).” County Manager Paul Van Haute said his marching orders were “no tax increase.” Irvin argued that to his recollection, when those meetings were held, it was his understanding to have no tax increase and also no COLA. “We looked at no new hires and that’s my understanding of Paul’s marching orders when we left that,” said Irvin. “And then, all of a sudden, I see a proposed budget with something totally different.” Addison noted that after those budget hearings, “apparently there was some conversations afterward and those parameters were changed,” he said. “We then found out in an email that they were changed.”

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