The Pulaski County Council continues working on the 2020 budget, but more cuts still need to be made. The goal is to try to bring the county’s spending back to 2016 levels, since that was the last time the county brought in more than it spent.
During Monday’s budget hearing and council meeting, council members Kathi Thompson and Brian Young generally felt the county could still give raises to a few departments, but Rudy DeSabatine disagreed. “Well, last week, 10 days ago, you were wanting to give 20 people raises, right or wrong?” he asked Thompson.
“Out of something that was a different tax section,” she replied.
“You’re wanting to give them raises, and then you’re sitting here telling us we need to cut, and then you’re trying to cut $4,000,” DeSabatine continued. “We need to cut a quarter of a million. We need to cut a half a million.”
“You seconded that motion, Rudy!” Thompson pointed out.
In the case of the Highway Department, employees are generally paid with gas tax revenues, which is separate from the local income and property taxes that fund most of the county’s operations. Highway Department officials have long complained that Pulaski County pays less than surrounding areas, making it hard to attract workers, especially those with a CDL.
Council Member Mike Tiede suggested giving the Highway Department’s CDL drivers an extra $100 per month. Thompson’s recommendation to raise those employees’ pay by three percent appeared to be voted down, although Council President Jay Sullivan later seemed to think it had been approved.
Young and Thompson were also supportive of spending increases that might lead to more revenue for the county, such as moving the Building Department assistant to full-time status. “Historically, this board and the commissioners, as well, have eliminated departments that make money,” Young said. “I don’t know why. When they make revenue, we should be rewarding them, not with ease of work, but he wants to do the work to clean up the county. It makes money. Common sense – it’s what’s lacking.”
The Building Department’s request was ultimately denied. Council members did agree to raise the airport manager’s hourly pay rate from $12.70 to $15, after proposals for $17.65 and $16 were shot down. They also reversed a previous decision to cut a part-time maintenance position and allowed the Recycling and Transfer Station to expand a part-time position to full-time.
One of the big challenges Monday was that the various county officials seemed to have different ideas about where the budget proposal stood at the end of their last budget meeting a couple of weeks ago. Council Member Thompson pointed out several discrepancies between the calculations she had made and the document provided by Auditor Laura Wheeler, while the summary provided to the public was something else entirely. “The budget that I saw online bears no resemblance to what we’ve been looking at and working with,” Thompson said. “So if anyone from the community would’ve gone online to see that, I wouldn’t have been able to explain it to them.”
One discrepancy stemmed from the fact that EMS Director Brandon DeLorenzo cut $60,000 out of his budget, which some council members were apparently unaware of.
Presumably to help keep better track of all of this and other information, Auditor Wheeler requested another staff member to serve as secretary to the county council and commissioners, but that was denied for next year’s budget. Thompson also pointed out that in spite of all the work, the budget proposal still doesn’t address the need for courthouse security staff and asked for more discussion from the commissioners.
Council members agreed to continue discussing the 2020 budget during a special meeting on September 23. The budget will be up for adoption on October 14.