Committee debates budget requests for FY 2016-17

Published 8:28 am Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye  Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey spoke to members of the Budget Committee Tuesday evening regarding his funding requests for both his office and the Buildings and Grounds Budget.

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye
Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey spoke to members of the Budget Committee Tuesday evening regarding his funding requests for both his office and the Buildings and Grounds Budget.

Members of the budget committee worked Tuesday night to sort through and approve funding requests from county departments and outside agencies, and some of those requests led to lots of questions and, in at least one case, heated debate.
The committee once again had questions for Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey regarding his request to reclassify his secretary Susan Robinson as Economic Development Director for the county through his office and raise her salary from just over $31,000 to about $50,000.
Humphrey explained to the committee members that he was funding the increase in salary by moving funds from the Buildings and Grounds budget, which is under his purview, into the budget for the County Mayor’s office. The majority of the funds would be taken out of the budget line item for utilities under the Buildings and Grounds budget, Humphrey said.
“I can assure you there are adequate funds in that budget to cover utilities,” Humphrey said.
During his comments, Humphrey took issue with some who have referred to his request for additional funding to raise Robinson’s salary as a “pay increase.”
“This is not a pay increase, this is actually compensating someone for the work she is doing,” Humphrey said. “If you were to calculate the amount of work that is being done this is actually a cost savings to this county.”
Humphrey told the committee that Robinson works an average of 60 hours or more per week.
Commissioner Danny Ward, who was filling in on the committee for fellow Commissioner L.C. Tester, asked Humphrey if the Commission is asking Robinson to work all of the extra hours and perform all of the extra duties Humphrey said she was doing.
“No, but this Mayor is and he’s the Mayor of this county and it’s up to him to run his office the way he sees fit,” Humphrey said in reply to Ward’s question.
“This is not a secretary,” Humphrey added.
Ward replied, “You hired her as a secretary.”
Humphrey responded, “I did, but the scope of the office has changed.”
When Humphrey again tried to explain that he was shifting funds from one budget to the next to cover the salary increase, Commissioner Buford Peters questioned why the Buildings and Grounds budget had such an excess.
“You’ve padded your utilities to be able to use it how you see fit,” Peters said.
Humphrey replied that the funds were available and he was moving them to the salaries portion of the budget for the Mayor’s Office.
Several surrounding counties perform economic and community development duties from the mayor’s office, Humphrey said.
“Basically, we are trying to mimic just what Johnson County is doing,” Humphrey said. “They have someone doing economic development who is getting paid not much more than $18,000. That is what we are trying to do.”
“The Mayor is not trying to closet economic development and take control of it,” he added.
Ward said he felt if the county wanted to name an economic development director they should perform a candidate search like they did for the finance director’s position and then select the best candidate. He said he felt the committee should get a legal opinion from County Attorney Josh Hardin before reclassifying Robinson’s position from secretary to economic development director.
“I think as Mayor she is my employee and I can authorize it,” Humphrey said.
Committee member Ronnie Trivett made a motion to approve the budget request from the Mayor’s Office as presented to include the more than $18,000 increase in Robinson’s salary. The motion was seconded by Committee member John Lewis.
On a vote the motion failed on a tie vote of 4-4. Committee members Trivett, Lewis, Robert Carroll and Nancy Brown voted in favor of approving the mayor’s budget. Committee members Peters, Ward, Ross Garland and Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler voted against the approving the budget request as presented.
When Culler asked the committee if there were any other motions or considerations regarding the budget request for the Mayor’s Office, Humphrey had a statement for the committee members.
“My budget is not going to change,” he said. “I’ve made a very respectful request and I am not going to change it.”
Peters began to make a motion to cut $18,000 from the utilities line item on the Building and Grounds budget but both Culler and Carter County Finance Director Christa Byrd advised the committee members they cannot make cuts to a specific line item in a request from an elected official or department head they can only decrease or increase the overall bottom line funding amount.
Following this exchange, Humphrey once again addressed the committee, this time giving them a warning about cuts to the budget. Humphrey said the county buildings are old and in need of repairs and remodeling and if any cuts are made to the Mayor’s budget it would hamper work on projects that are planned through the Buildings and Grounds budget.
“When you start cutting the Mayor’s budget, you are cutting funding for these building projects that we’ve already committed to doing,” Humphrey said, adding the committee has never questioned other office holders about who they hire or what salary they pay their employees. “It’s obvious you are just singling the mayor out.”
Peters then made a motion to set the funding for the Mayor’s Office budget to the same level it was at last year. Byrd cautioned against leaving funding at last year’s levels due to the increased cost of health insurance as well as the state-mandated raise to Humphrey’s salary.
The motion was seconded by Ward but failed on a tie vote of 4-4. Those voting in favor of the motion were Peters, Ward, Culler and Garland. Those opposing the cut to the budget request were Brown, Carroll, Lewis and Trivett.
After that motion failed, Trivett asked Byrd to calculate how much money would need to be added to last year’s funding level in order to cover the mandated increases. Byrd estimated it would be around $10,000.
Trivett then made a motion to set the budget for the Mayor’s Office at $10,000 more than last year’s allocation. The motion was seconded by Lewis and ultimately passed by a vote of 5-3 with Trivett, Lewis, Brown, Carroll and Garland voting in favor.
Byrd then asked Humphrey if he would be able to rework the line items of his approved budget amount and bring his budget back to the Committee on Thursday night.
“The answer is no, I mean it’s that simple,” Humphrey said.
Later in the meeting, the committee voted to approve the Building and Grounds budget as presented — which included a decrease in funding to account for the requested increase on the Mayor’s budget — by a margin of 6-2 with Peters and Ward casting the only dissenting votes.
During the meeting, committee members also questioned representatives from Carter County 911 regarding a request for just under $30,000 in increased funding to pay for dispatcher’s salaries.
Ward made a motion to leave funding for 911 at the same level as last year, which was seconded by Lewis. The motion failed on a vote of 4-4.
Culler then stepped down as chair of the committee, turning the gavel over to vice-chairman Peters, and made a motion to approve the increase in funds for 911.
Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Smith, who serves on the 911 Board of Directors, issued a plea to the committee to allocate the additional funds, saying the state auditors had warned without increased funding the agency could be shut down.
The motion to approve the funds ultimately passed on a vote of 5-3.

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