Monroe County now has what county councilor Geoff McKim on Tuesday night called a “maintenance budget” for 2020, which includes $83.1 million worth of expenditures. That’s about 4.8 percent more than the $79.3 million budgeted last year.
McKim said at Tuesday’s county council meeting that there are two issues not addressed in the 2020 budget, but would need attention in 2021—employee compensation and justice reform issues.
If employee compensation is not competitive in the labor market, the county needs to fund more in compensation, he said. Once the results of an in-progress criminal justice reform study come back, it would be possible to make systematic, prioritized investments for facilities and services alike, McKim said. That could require more investments in everything from mental health to the jail.
The vote on the seven-member council at Tuesday night’s meeting was 6–1, with the lone dissent coming from Marty Hawk. She said she supported almost everything in the budget, but did not support the $3.3 million general obligation (GO) bond.
The GO bond amount had been reduced by a vote of the council the night before, from $5.48 million, to the $3.3 million that appeared on Tuesday night’s proposal. Hawk made a motion Tuesday night to reduce it even more, to $2.6 million, and she had a list of the specific projects she wanted it to fund. The motion died for lack of a second.
The vote on the adoption of the budget is a separate question from the issuance of the bonds. A public hearing on the bond was held Tuesday night, but the vote on issuance was postponed until Oct. 22.
Also put off, until an unspecified time, was the purchase of property northwest of the I-69 and SR-46 interchange. The county is looking to acquire the quarry-hole-dotted land to establish a limestone heritage destination site.
In his remarks, councilor Trent Deckard said he agreed with McKim about the two issues that the council needs to confront: justice reform and compensation. “What is the future of justice in this county?” he asked. Deckard called it “an evolving question in this country.” Monroe County has invested having a conversation about that, he said.
“What are we going to do about pay?” Deckard asked. The challenge is to attract people to work for the county in an economy where unemployment is so low.
In his remarks, councilor Eric Spoonmore followed up on the question of compensation. Even though it was a “maintenance budget,” he said, he felt it “really prioritizes our people.” He pointed to some raises for hourly and part-time employees. There’s not a single county employee that will not be earning a living wage in the next year, Spoonmore said. He agreed that the county still had some work to do on the question of compensation.
Spoonmore added to the thanks expressed by all the councilors at the table for the work that the staff had done to help prepare the budget and for the work of all county employees. He also thanked taxpayers for giving the council the privilege to do the job, saying, “It truly is an honor and a privilege.”
Spoonmore’s remarks about taxpayers in part echoed a sentiment expressed by Marty Hawk, at the start of councilor commentary, who pointed to the increase in revenues from the local income tax. That gave the council “a much bigger pot of money to spend,” adding that “the taxpayers did help us make this budget work.”
Beyond identifying the two issues the council needs to confront in the future, McKim sketched out some basics about the 2020 budget. One of the big increases from last year to this year is the need to fund a 27th biweekly payroll. It doesn’t mean extra pay for employees, it just an extra payday that falls within the boundaries of the budget year, he said. The 2020 budget funds a $300 increase per position to the cost of providing health care to county employees, according to McKim.
The cost-of-living increase of 35 cents an hour that’s reflected in the 2020 budget, which works out is about 1.3% overall, is slightly
lower than the CPI increase, McKim said. The CPI is normally what the county uses for its cost-of-living adjustment. The county typically alternates between giving a straight percentage amount and a flat amount as a raise—this year the increase is a flat amount, according to McKim. That works out to a larger proportional increase for lower-paid compared to higher-paid positions.
In addition to approving the 2020 budget, the county council handled some other budget-related issues on Tuesday night, like the salary ordinances for the county staff and for elected officials.
Based on the salary ordinance from 2018, compared to last year’s and this year’s, the practice of paying the president of the council and the president of the board more than other members of those bodies was discontinued starting last year. [Edit: See comment below.]
For 2020, members of the board of commissioners will receive $37,271 a year. That’s about 5.7 percent more than last year’s $35,257. That was 4 percent more than $33,918 they received in 2018.
For 2020, members of the county council will receive $16,972 a year, which is about 8 percent more than last year’s $15,711. That was 1.7 percent more than the $15,448 they received in 2018.