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Council flips script with raise

My Opinion

Ross Schulz, Staff Writer

The Harrison County Council, in a surprise move last week, agreed to give all county employees a 2-percent raise.
This was after financial adviser Frank Cummings’ numbers showed little-to-no room for a raise because the proposed budget was significantly higher than the projected income for the county’s general fund.
Granted, most department heads asked for about a 5-percent raise for employees in their proposed budgets, knowing it would be cut from there, but the one aspect of the general budget where a shortfall could be made up is salaries. And the council failed to do so by increasing the amount of raise it gave employees by the highest figure in five years.
Plus, the insurance and benefits package ‘ without any increase in the employees’ actual salaries ‘ increased nearly $400,000 for 2013. That’s a nice ‘raise’ package in itself. The council had no say in the insurance contracts, as the insurance package was agreed upon by the county commissioners.
The last four years the council has approved a 1-percent raise, which is not significant but definitely consistent and would be cherished by many in the workforce in this sluggish economy.
The difference between a 1- and 2-percent raise in the general fund was more than $80,000. Again, it doesn’t seem like a large sum considering the entire general fund budget is about $8 million, but this is coming from a council that sometimes spends close to 30 minutes debating additionals and even transfers of just a couple of thousands of dollars.
The seven-member group may have to have its title of ‘stingiest’ council removed after the motion to increase salaries by 2 percent passed with a 4-3 vote.
The financial committee of the council recommended a 1-percent raise across the board.
The 2-percent raise includes the salaries of the county councilmembers. In 2010 (2011 budget), councilmembers elected to cut their own salaries from a total of $83,587 to $81,472 (a reduction of about $300 per each of the seven members). Since then, the council has received what all other employees have received (a 1-percent raise in 2012 and 2 percent this year).
Councilmembers make about $12,000 per year and also receive the county’s insurance package, if they choose to use it.
The council will complete its 2013 budget next week and, hopefully, it will find enough room somewhere else to cut the budget so it falls into place without being in the red.
Or, and what’s probably the most likely scenario, the council will subsidize the general budget with riverboat funding, which is fine, as long as the riverboat money continues to come in at the pace it is now. If it doesn’t, the council’s job will become a lot easier, because it will have to say ‘no’ to almost any and all extra requests and a good chunk of programs that are already in place.