Budget talk includes suggestion of lifting furloughs

  Supervisor Lori Simpson is receiving pressure to lift county furloughs.

  “My downtown merchants used to talk to me about tourism, now they want to get the county employees back to work full-time,” said Simpson, who represents Quincy, during the Board of Supervisors meeting Aug. 20.

  She said that she had even heard the request while riding in the annual fair parade, when a bystander yelled out, “Remove the furloughs!”

  That sentiment was echoed during budget discussions later that afternoon.

  County Clerk Kathy Williams laid out the reasons her department should not be subject to furloughs, and Assessor Chuck Leonhardt admitted that if he had to choose between lifting furloughs or the $5,000 that he had requested for extra office help, he would opt to lift the furloughs.

  During an interview following the meeting, Williams said that she wanted the supervisors to “consider revenue sources when they’re funding departments.”

  The county clerk’s office charges fees for many of its services.

  “Our department is self-supporting,” she said.

  In back-up documentation for the board, Williams wrote, “Rather than looking at total revenue generated as the funding source for all departments, consider the amount that is generated by each department, and apply it towards the cost to the county to operate that department.”

  She also mentioned that “departments that have the sole function of serving the public (taxpayers)” may need to be viewed differently.

  Most county employees are working four nine-hour days with their offices closed Fridays.

  The employees in Williams’ office work four eight-hour days, and from 8 a.m. to noon on Friday.

  She said that it’s crucial for people to have Friday access to allow people who travel to the county for the weekend to make their annual recordings, to give voters access during elections, and to make sure ballots are secure as opposed to being taped to a window or slid under a door if the office is closed.

  Supervisor Jon Kennedy said that he understood her reasoning, but was torn. On the one hand he understood her argument that her department was self-supporting and served the public directly, but conversely, “in the spirit of being one big happy family, we pool things.”

  Kennedy added that while Williams’ office can charge for services, many departments cannot.

  It would take roughly $500,000 annually to eliminate all furloughs.

  But Kennedy wonders what would happen if they had less than that. How would the supervisors prioritize which departments would lose furloughs?

  He said one way would be to look at who serves the public directly. In that category he mentioned the clerk-recorder’s office and the treasurer-tax collector as examples, whereas he listed the county counsel’s office and information technology as departments that don’t.

  Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said that the board would have to develop a method of prioritization if there wasn’t enough revenue to eliminate furloughs for all departments, but said she has heard county staff say “all or nothing.”

  Thrall said that she is anxious to see the revenue figures for the next fiscal year, particularly the sales tax and transient occupancy tax.

  Budget consultant Susan Scarlett said that she would have more figures to share at the Sept. 3 meeting. The Board of Supervisors must adopt a budget by Oct. 2.

  Last year, the supervisors scheduled all of the departments to appear before the full board, and combed through their budgets line by line. They used the process as an opportunity to better understand the functions and fiscal structure of each department.

  This year department heads met with budget consultant Scarlett and Auditor Roberta Allen, as well as supervisors Jon Kennedy and Terry Swofford, and only appeared before the full board at their own request.

  Five department heads appeared before the supervisors Aug. 20. In addition to Williams and Leonhardt, the heads of information technology, human resources and facility services also made requests.

  Dave Preston sought improvements for the county’s Pentamation computer system; Gayla Trumbo hoped to add an employee to her personnel department, which is short-staffed; and Dony Sawchuk sought improvements for the courthouse annex fire alarm system.

  The supervisors are making notes of all of the requests, but no decisions will be made until they have a clearer revenue picture.

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