Commission approved 2017-18 budget, including pay raise, over objection by Harris and Simmons

Published 1:01 pm Thursday, September 21, 2017

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By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

Over the objections of Commissioners Robert Harris and Joshua Simmons, the Lowndes County Commission approved its 2017-2018 budget, Wednesday, Sept. 20, including a 5 percent across the board raise for all fulltime county employees plus a $1,000 across the board pay increase for each fulltime employee.

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Wednesday’s meeting was a continuation of the commission’s Monday, Sept. 18 meeting.

The budget includes revenues of $9,103,646.43, expenses of $9,134,515.43, with an overage in expenditures of $30,869. However, the overage is compensated by the carryover from the previous year’s budget of about $108,000, according to County Administrator Jackie Thomas.

Thomas said the $1,000 increase included in the budget for each fulltime employee is not a bonus nor one-time pay increase. “It is a raise,” she said.

Thomas said the $1,000 and the 5 percent will be added in October. And she said the $1,000 will be divided over 26 pay periods.

Thomas gave an example of the pay increases approved in the budget pointing out that an employee who makes $13 per hour will now make $14.13 per hour.

She also reported to the commission on salary adjustments for two chief clerks, who will be paid $32,705.62 and for two positions in the Highway Department, superintendent and assistant superintendent, who will be paid $36,400.

The vote to approve the budget as presented by Thomas followed a failed vote on a “substitute motion” by Harris with a second from Simmons to remove all attorneys’ fees from the budget except for that of County Attorney Hank Sanders.

That motion was defeated with Harris and Simmons voting “yes” and Commissioners Carnell McAlpine, Dickson Farrior and Joseph Barganier voting “no.”

A motion to approve the budget as it was presented by Thomas, made by Farrior with a second from Barganier, passed with McAlpine, Farrior and Barganier voting “yes” and Harris and Simmons voting “no.”

Harris said he voted “no” because he was not provided information in writing he requested for the two Highway Department salary adjustments. He also the county doesn’t have things set in place at the Highway Department for the salary adjustments.  And Simmons said he voted “no with reason (cause).”

Thomas said of budget revenues, “There is absolute no guarantee that all of this money (revenue) will come in.” However, she said, “If anything, there will more coming in versus less, unless we have a major business close.”

Harris said there is “no quality control” in place regarding the budget. He said, “We ought to be looking at the budget as if we are looking at our home budget.” He said, “This is tax payers’ money.” He said the $30,000 excess in expenses would look better if it was zero and spoke of ways to reduce expenses.

Harris also made comments on how the budget could be improved.

Farrior brought up what a difference not making a $248,000 payment on a condemned building would make, referring to the Hayneville Plaza.

County Attorney Hank Sanders said in 2014, “Based upon the legal information that we have, I recommend that we cease to have any events in Hayneville Plaza and that we move to get the tenants out as quick as reasonably possible.”

The Commission issued $3.53 million in General Obligation Warrants, Series 2011 for the purchase of the Hayneville Plaza. The building was to be used a hub center for the South Central Alabama Broadband Cooperative District (SCABC).

The SCABC was formed to own and manage a broadband communications infrastructure designed to bridge the digital divide in South Central Alabama. The original project was to construct 2,200 miles of fiber-optic broadband network in Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox counties funded by a $59 million in federal grant money and $27 million in matching funds.
However, funding to grant recipient Trillion Communications for the project was terminated in October of 2012.

Harris also said, “And if we didn’t have to spend $60,000 to $70,000 on another attorney to pay them to sue somebody to force them to pay moneys that we are going to have to pay back at a higher interest rate, then we would be better as well.”

He was referring to an ongoing lawsuit against Charlie King Jr., Robert Woods, Helenor Bell, Karl Bell and Hayneville Plaza regarding the purchase of the Hayneville Plaza. Karl Bell was owner of the Hayneville Plaza at the time of the purchase.

Harris also said, “If we did not sell the building (Hayneville Plaza) for $125,000 and not bid it out to get as much as you can for it, then we would be better off.”

That comment referred to the sale of the building by the commission to Bell Ventures LLC, which recently tore the building down for an Ace Hardware project.

In other matters, the commission unanimously approved appropriations from discretionary funds to the Fort Deposit Arts Council of $977.55 (from Barganier), the town of Mosses for $2,000 (from McAlpine) and to Lowndes County Middle School for $500 (from Simmons).

The approval of a beer license was carried over to the second Monday meeting in October, which will be Oct. 9 at 10 a.m. The commission will not meet Monday, Sept. 25.