Union County Commissioners approve budget
Union County government’s Fiscal Year 2017-2018 budget again was the topic of lengthy, and sometimes heated, discussion last Friday.
The Union County Board of Commissioners met in regular session Friday morning. The session was held at the Union County Courthouse in Jonesboro.
The commissioners convened again during the noon hour on Monday at the courthouse for a special meeting which was held to approve a combined annual budget and appropriations ordinance for the county fiscal year which began on Dec. 1, 2017. The county’s fiscal year ends on Nov. 30.
At a previous meeting, the commissioners voted to approve a tentative budget for Fiscal Year 2017-2018.
Nearly all of the seats in the community room where the meeting was held were filled for both last Friday’s regular meeting and Monday’s special session. Around 30 people were in attendance at each meeting, along with county officials.
Those on hand for the meetings included community members, candidates who are running in the 2018 primary election, county employees and other interested persons.
Monday’s special meeting was attended by all five county board members.
County board chairman Bobby Toler Jr. opened discussion which focused on the budget process. The county’s fiscal year, he reminded those in attendance, began on Dec. 1.
“We’re at a point that we have to have a budget,” Toler said.
The board subsequently voted, 5-0, in favor of approving the proposed budget and appropriations ordinance for Fiscal Year 2017-2018.
At that point, Toler then opened the meeting to comments from the public. Community members and county officials shared thoughts and concerns about the budget.
Union County Circuit Clerk Tiffany Busby asked why there had been a delay in finalizing the budget.
Toler said that an original concern focused on the details of an early retirement incentive for employees.
The board chairman acknowledged that the budget process had not moved quickly.
“It just does not move as quickly as it needs to,” he said. “There’s no excuse for that.”
The circuit clerk also pressed the board to decide what action would be taken regarding one of her employees who is facing time off due to medical concerns.
“We will work with you,” county board vice chairman Max Miller told Busby.
The circuit clerk also raised concerns about how the county might cover the cost of legal fees which she said are likely to surface in connection with personnel matters.
A question also arose as to when an employee in the county clerk’s office might face being laid off. Uncertainty surrounds the matter.
Following Monday’s special session, the commissioners released a prepared statement about the budget. The statement accompanies this article.
On Friday morning, the commissioners heard concerns from many of those attending the meeting about the budget, potential staffing cuts, contract language, the supervisory roles of administrative personnel and other concerns.
Three of the five county commissioners were in attendance at the meeting.
Friday’s meeting opened with business that included the approval of building permits (a regular item on board meeting agendas), discussion about the bad condition of county roads as the result of harsh winter weather and approval of a collective bargaining agreement involving the Union County Ambulance Service.
Several commissioners praised the work which went into the drafting and approving the bargaining agreement.
The commissioners also were asked to consider a request from the Union County Economic Development Corporation to consider helping the cost of an executive director for the organization.
After moving through business on the agenda for the meeting in about 45 minutes, county board chairman Bobby Toler Jr. asked if there were any public comments.
From that point, and for just over an hour, the commissioners were faced with a wide range of concerns voiced by those attending the meeting.
Tom Sadowski questioned the board about when, and why, a decision was made to expand the number of commissioners on the county governing body from three to five persons. The move was approved by county voters.
Sadowski also questioned whether or not the county actually was functioning under a commission form of government. He said that under current circumstances, he sees the county as being governed by a council administrative form of government. The county does have an administrator. The person who fills the post is hired by the board.
Sadowski also voiced concerns about a county budget situation which has led to austerity and considerations about layoffs.
Questions then arose from those in attendance about the county’s hiring of an administrator and a human resources director, the salaries and benefits earned by those holding the jobs, along with concerns about raises which were being proposed for those holding both jobs.
Some of those in attendance at the meeting wondered how the commissioners could be considering raises for the posts, while, at the same time, personnel layoffs were being considered due to finances.
“We’ve been down this road many times,” county board vice chairman Max Miller said as discussion continued. “Their jobs are needed.”
Debbie Nash, who regularly attends the meetings, voiced concerns about spending for administrative positions as compared to those for such jobs as Union County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
“There’s something wrong there,” Nash said. Her comments were followed by applause from many of those in attendance at the meeting.
Union County Circuit Clerk Tiffany Busby voiced concerns about the board’s commitment to offering raises to the administrators.
Several county officials reiterated previously voiced sentiments that the hiring of the administrators actually saves the county in the long run.
Busby also voiced frustration about what she sees as the commissioners’ lack of knowledge of the work that is done in her office, and in other county offices.
County administrator Angela Coke said that a predecessor in the post had saved the county several hundred thousands dollars on insurance costs. Such savings are seen as a positive development in terms of resources which are saved for the county.
Later in the meeting, Union County Clerk Terry Bartruff said that he had made the previous administrator aware of actions which could be taken to save on insurance costs.
A community member who was in attendance questioned where funds which are saved are being directed.
Another community member suggested that funds should be directed to support the work of the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
Kevin Starr asked whether the commissioners had discussed the possibility of layoffs with officeholders when talks were underway to fill the human resources post.
Starr also said that he did not think the commissioners were giving citizens information they needed related to the matter.
He also addressed concerns about definitions related to the duties and roles and administrative personnel and what they oversee in their jobs.
Concerns were voiced about a layoff facing the county clerk’s office during an election year. The clerk’s office oversees elections in Union County.
A county employee who attended the meeting asked that the commissioners consider having at least some of their meetings at a time which would allow more community members and other interested persons to be present.
Regular county board meetings are scheduled at 8:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Friday of each month. It was noted that many people are at work at that time and cannot attend the meetings.
At several points during both of the meetings, concerns were voiced by some of those in attendance regarding what was seen as a lack of respect for some of the matters that were being shared. At times, the concerns were quite pointed.