After the third and final public hearing, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday night to table a vote on the 2019 budget for two weeks.
Commissioners proposed several changes as well as asked finance and human resources to track down information to help with their decision making on certain items.
District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix said she would like to consider combining a front office reception position with a public information specialist for the county, and asked the finance department if she could get numbers on how much that salary would cost.
Nix also asked that the board consider removing the recommended cost of living increase for supplementary employees, an amount of around $4,300.
“We have not paid that since 2006 and I would like the board to consider not starting that,” Nix said.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said he would like to remove the proposed full time fire training officer job and replace it with overtime amounting to $15,000 for the Emergency Services Department, which would allow for current employees who are certified to conduct training to do so in addition to their normal shifts. The change would result in a savings of around $46,000.
The fire training officer was one of 10 positions Emergency Services Director Danny Thompson requested and the only one that Chairman Billy Thurmond has allocated in his proposed budget. There are currently 28 frozen positions in the department, which are positions that were not refilled after employees left or were promoted out of them.
Thompson said he would be willing to try Gaines’ proposal and see how long the $15,000 would last.
“Give me six months, I’ll look at the trend of how we’re doing to say ‘yep this is going to work or this might not work and we probably need to revisit at some point down the road,’” Thompson said. “But I'm always willing to try to work and make the dollar stretch as far as it can be.”
“If we can make it work with the $15,000 instead of the $61,000 and still offer a high level of service, I think it's something that should be considered,” Gaines said.
Gaines also said he would like to see the recommended asphalt budget for the Public Works Department decreased by $25,000. If approved the change would still be an increase of $25,000 over the 2018 asphalt budget.
Public Works Director David McKee said that the amount that would then be allocated, $205,000, would be enough to rehabilitate two miles of road.
“We can make that work, we are very very fortunate that we have SPLOST VI, which as you know 67 percent of is allocated to public works and roads and infrastructure, so yes we can make that work,” McKee said.
Gaines said he would like to see the savings from his previous suggestions used to increase the county’s 401(k) match to 5 percent from 4 percent, which would cost an estimated $105,000.
“My goal behind that is as we’ve heard, we try work to be as competitive as we can in the marketplace with our neighbors and to try to keep and retain quality employees and that would be just a benefit that we might want to consider looking at,” he said.
Gaines also suggested allocating $2,000 to Good Shepherd Clinic, a free medical clinic serving Dawson County. The clinic requested $2,000 in 2017 and was not allocated any funds, and did not make a request in 2018.
“They’re not looking for funding their everyday needs, it's a small piece of their overall budget, but what it does is it shows a commitment from the county that we’re engaged and we’re invested in that organization that does a lot for the community,” Gaines said. “When they go after grants the grants ask who all is involved, who all is invested in your organization, and they would like to be able to say that the county is financially invested in their operations.”
District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett said that 32 percent of Good Shepherd Clinic’s funding comes from grants.
“We like grants, we’re fond of grants, so I think that shows they’re really trying,” Fausett said.
Fausett also had a suggestion and asked finance to determine how much it would cost for the Dawson County Satellite Branch Library to stay open for the hours that the department requested during budget hearings this summer.
The library board asked for hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday instead of 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays, and asked for two part time staff positions to be able to work those hours at an expense of $25,500.
Fausett also said she wanted to discuss the recommended new position of an additional part time Magistrate Court judge.
“I had lots of comments from people that they don’t see that that’s needed and I had talked to (Chairman Thurmond) about it and got an entirely different perspective,” Fausett said. “I got a lot of push back from people and a lot of noise…I think he can explain the need for this.”
Thurmond’s wife Lisa Poss-Thurmond is the Dawson County Chief Magistrate Judge. Thurmond said the law requires the Magistrate Court to have a judge on call for all of the 8,760 hours in the year.
“You can make a comparison of that to the coroner’s office, the coroner's office must have a coroner available to answer a call every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year,” he said. “(Magistrate Court) are one of few departments in the county that have 24/7 responsibility. When they leave their office at 5 o’clock, they don’t just go home like everybody else does and be off.”
Lisa Thurmond said the new position would allow her and the other full time judge a break to rest, as calls can come in at 2 a.m. and she would have to be back on the bench at 8 a.m.
“When we leave we’re not off and it is very difficult sometimes,” Lisa Thurmond said. “My time is not my own....Judge Tarnacki and I need that weekend break so that we’re back in here on Monday. 365 days a year, just like the coroner’s office, so I’m asking for the same consideration.”
The salary would fall within the budget that the Magistrate Court was allocated this year, with a $450 decrease in 2019.
The board voted to table approving the budget until the Nov. 1 voting session.