By Michael Howell
The County Commissioners came to consensus on Monday, September 16, to schedule a public hearing to consider a proposed budget amendment that would add over $17,000 in salary hikes to the County Attorney’s budget. County Attorney Bill Fulbright made his first pitch to the commissioners about a possible budget amendment last week. Basically he asked for a little of the savings back that he had generated by revamping his office and dropping the Child and Family Services contract, in order to compensate the existing attorneys in his office and a new paralegal staff for the extra work they were doing.
Fulbright estimated that by reorganizing his office and dropping the Child and Family Services contract with a private attorney, he had saved the county $50,000. He said he has in addition accrued $20,000 in job vacancy savings to date, bringing the total budget savings to $70,000. He asked the Board of Commissioners to amend the budget to allow for four eventual grade 10 paralegal positions he would create using existing personnel over the next few years. Those increases would total about $500 during the first year and $2,700 by the second year when all four paralegals will be paid grade 10 wages. He also asked for a $3,000 salary bump for five deputy county attorneys, involving a total increase of about $14,930 annually. Fulbright also asked to increase his own pay by $1,829 annually by dedicating the state funds received to offset the costs of having a county attorney.
Fulbright went on to say that it was not just a change of pay but one based on a change of duties. He said he had written eleven new job descriptions from scratch since taking office. He said his office was at 2010 staffing levels but had taken on all the CFS work.
“There seems to be something the matter with that,” he said. “We have added work and added responsibility.”
Commissioner Suzy Foss expressed agreement at that time and said the issue should be revisited.
Commission Chairman Jeff Burrows noted that while making the budget almost every department said it was overworked and understaffed.
“But we cut some of them anyway,” said Burrows.
Foss noted that Fulbright’s office had saved the county a lot of money.
“If we don’t reward people who wear themselves out to save us money, who’s going to do it?” said Foss. “We need to keep those people. We can’t afford turnover. I’m all for being fiscally tight but we also need to think about the future.”
There was discussion about the raises and what they would really cost if they included benefits, cost of living increases and other factors.
At Monday’s meeting Commissioner Foss once again praised the County Attorney’s office for bringing in a budget reduction savings. She said those efforts needed to be rewarded.
Commissioner Ron Stoltz expressed an objection to the raises, saying that the job duties had not really been changed so it was just a raise in pay that he couldn’t go along with.
“I’d like to see a new job description. That’s what we hold every other department to,” said Stoltz.
Commissioner J.R. Iman said that he was not willing to get into detailed job descriptions. He said the office is doing more work now that it has taken on the CFS work.
“It’s an increase, but an overall decrease in the budget,” said Iman.
“In the private sector that’s a hell of a bargain,” Commissioner Greg Chilcott said of the deal.
“This isn’t the private sector,” countered Commission Chairman Jeff Burrows. He said if the were doing their job and getting paid then they were working 40 hours a week. If they have to do more work they get overtime and comp time, he said.
Foss countered, saying that pay levels need to be competitive to keep good employees and to attract good new employees.
After some discussion concerning the new job description for the paralegals and how they would be phased in, the commissioners came to a unanimous consensus to begin the process of advertising a public meeting to consider the proposed budget amendment.