County wary of coming budget

Published 9:21 pm Monday, August 11, 2014

With a new budget year looming, the Dallas County Commission acted cautiously Monday when considering two financial matters.

The commission held off during its Monday meeting on giving retirees raises. The commission also cautiously approved the purchase of new vehicles for the county engineer’s office.

With Probate Judge and commission chairman Kim Ballard attending an Alabama probate judge’s conference, District 2 commissioner Roy Moore presided over the meeting. More than a dozen former county employees were in the audience and Moore began the meeting by immediately addressing potential raises.

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Former Dallas County employee Rhueben Ellis said the group of employees attended Monday’s commission meeting after receiving a letter from Retirement Systems of Alabama. The letter said the commission must approve an increase by Aug. 31, 2014.

Moore said he wasn’t aware of a potential raise prior to Monday’s meeting and said the commission couldn’t approve an increase without taking a look at it’s fiscal year 2015 budget, which must be approved by Oct. 1, 2014.

“We just don’t know what our projected revenues are going to be,” Moore said. “Our full-time employees are digging in for a raise as well and we are trying to see what we can do about that. This is not the last meeting that we can act on this subject.”

The remaining three commissioners in attendance said they were also surprised by the retirees’ request, but unanimously supported a raise if money is available.

“You have my support 100 percent, but we have to look at the entire picture,” District 3 commissioner Curtis Williams said. “We want you to know that you have been faithful, dedicated and hard workers for Dallas County.”

Ballard said in a phone interview after the meeting that he was aware of the retirees’ request, but was unsure if a raise would be possible. He said the cost-of-living increase would be more like a bonus. It would be paid as a one-time, lump sum. The total cost of the increase is estimated to be $35,000, Ballard said.

“While we are very proud of our retirees, I’ve got serious doubts that our budget will allow us to give a raise,” he said. “We haven’t decided absolutely. When I get back in the next few days, I’ll have a chance to look over the budget and make a decision.”

County retiree Martin Neeley said a cost-of-living raise is badly needed by all former employees and should be awarded because of the hard work done during their tenure.

Moore said the commission could approve an increase during its meeting on August 25.

Shortly after deciding to hold off on raises, the commission voted to sell five of its two-year-old dump trucks, take out a loan to pay off the remaining balance of the trucks and purchase four or five new, identical vehicles.

County engineer Coosa Jones said selling the trucks would pay for most of the loan. A loan is needed to pay off remaining payments before sale and obtain titles to all of the vehicles, Jones said.

Jones said during the meeting that he had previously considered only purchasing four vehicles as replacements.

District Four commissioner Larry Nickles said only purchasing four may jepordize future county operations.

“If we have got three trucks out running, I personally think it would cut us a little short, if there’s only one extra, but we need to look at the budget before we commit either way,” Nickles said.

The final motion approved by the commission allowed the purchase of four or five, contingent on the fiscal year 2015 budget.

County administrator Barbara Harrell said the county budget would likely be ready for commission approval before the end of August.