ADMINISTRATOR J.C. (Buddy) Johnson, III suggested Kines chose between an additional employee and an expanded office space.
The Grady County Commission will meet for a special called meeting on Thursday, beginning at 1:30 p.m., at the courthouse and elected officials are expected to set a 2020 ad valorem tax rate of 17.39 mills as previously advertised.
If approved, the county’s tax rate will be unchanged from 2019.
The county is budgeting to collect $9,200,000 in ad valorem taxes to fund its proposed $16,314,300 spending plan.
Last Thursday, Sept. 17, commissioners met with county finance director Holly Murkerson to review the proposed budget for the first time.
Grady County Clerk of Superior Court Debbie Kines also appeared before the commission last week to make her case for the addition of another clerk in her office.
Kines had requested the additional employee in her 2021 budget request, but Grady County administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, and finance director Murkerson had not included it in the proposed spending plan.
“The staff I have now cannot take on additional duties and there are things only I can do,” the Superior Court clerk told commissioners last week.
According to Kines, she needs an additional employee that she can train to insure the office continues to operate smoothly and efficiently when she is no longer in office.
“My time is winding down and I would never say I’m not replaceable, however I have knowledge I want to share,” Kines said.
Commissioner Ray Prince said that the outbreak of COVID-19 had shown the importance of having personnel properly cross trained.
Clerk Kines said that members of her existing staff are cross trained, but she said due to the volume of work and responsibilities, the five existing deputy clerks in her office could not be expected to take on additional duties.
The county administrator took issue with the county funding a nearly $100,000 renovation of the first floor of the courthouse to expand the clerk’s office and add an additional employee to the office.
“I’m not in favor of adding another employee,” Johnson said. The administrator suggested if the additional deputy clerk was more important than the renovation, perhaps the renovation should be delayed.
According to Johnson, the proposed renovation and expansion of the clerk’s office could cost $120,000, but he said he hopes to keep the cost in the $90,000 to $100,000 range. Under the proposal, a wall between the clerk’s office and a storage room next door would be taken out and a portion of what was formerly the tax commissioner’s office at the north end of the first floor would also be claimed by the clerk of courts office.
Kines said that she had been requesting the expanded office space and renovation for 12 years.
Johnson described the renovation as a “major suck” on the budget and he could not support tackling that project and adding an additional staffer. “The board can say do it all and I’ll respect their decision and we will try to find the money somewhere. Everyone wants more people. I don’t see us doing both, but I’m not going to get crossed up on it,” Johnson said.
Commission Chairman Keith Moye told Kines the board would look “over the numbers” with Murkerson and would make a decision.
Kines also made a pitch for $500 she had requested for the possible replacement of a printer in her office. After hearing her rationale, Johnson concurred the $500 should be included in the clerk’s budget.
On Tuesday, Johnson said he had not been contacted by any commissioner requesting the additional clerk be included in the budget.
However, Johnson said last week that his plan is to wait and adopt the budget later in the year. The county has advertised a millage rate of 17.39 and they can lower it at the Sept. 24 meeting, but they cannot increase it. Likewise, without a source of additional revenue, the county cannot increase its proposed budget without reducing other expenditures.
In reviewing the proposed budget last week some of the highlights Murkerson shared with the board included:
• Contributions to the county’s self-funded employee benefit fund for health care has been increased from $1,800,000 annually to $2,200,000 based on claims paid out in 2020 to date.
• The cost of telephones has been cut from approximately $70,000 annually to $13,000 by switching from Windstream to CNSNext.
• Money has been budgeted for a $2,600 per month lease payment on an additional dump truck for the county road department.
• Funding for leasing two additional vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office has been budgeted as well as a leased vehicle for the Detention Center.
• Lease payments for a new fire truck for the Volunteer Fire Department to replace a front line 1986 model truck at the Cairo station has been budgeted.
• Increased local funding for the Grady County Health Department has been included in the 2021 budget. According to Murkerson, the county will finance an additional $18,000 for the health department in 2021 and $36,000 in 2022. The county finance director said the county’s funding for the health department had not been increased since 2007.
• An additional $266,000 has been added to the 2021 budget to cover the county’s share of the Decatur-Grady E911 Service over and above the monthly phone fees the county receives for 911 service.
In preparing the budget, county officials discovered that the county had not been billing Thomas-Grady Service Center for rent since July 2017. According to Murkerson, the lease agreement calls for $800 per month from Thomas-Grady Service Center. According to the county administrator, approximately $30,000 in past due rent will be billed to the organization to bring the account current. Johnson says this was an instance of business being mishandled by the previous finance director and former county clerk.
During last Thursday’s budget review, Murkerson also noted that the cost of disposal of animals by the county’s animal control department had increased since the City of Cairo can no longer accept them at the city landfill.
Commissioner Prince said he had issues with the county funding 100 percent of animal control when the vast majority of animals that are picked up by the department are coming out of the City of Cairo. Murkerson said the Decatur County landfill is charging the county $5 per animal rather than the one charge per trip Cairo had been charging.
“In the past you have adopted a budget when the millage rate was set, but I’d rather wait until close to the end of the year. Only because we can continue to watch expenditures and fine tune the budget for 2021,” Johnson said.
“I’m o.k. with that,” Chairman Moye said and Commissioner Prince added, “We’re not raising taxes so not as big a deal.”
The commissioners will meet at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow, Sept. 24, to formally adopt the 2020 millage rate and tax bills are anticipated to be mailed on time this year on Oct. 20 with a due date of Dec. 20.