County Budget Includes Cost Of Living Increase For County Employees
Fire department shift officers to receive small bump in pay to get scale closer to that of starting deputies
Hopkins County Commissioners Court is expected to approve the county budget and tax rates as proposed. The proposed tax rate will remain the same for the third consecutive year, and the budget will be very similar to last year’s thanks to conservative planning, according to Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom.
“We are proposing a tax rate $0.624892, the same as the preceding year’s tax rate. The county’s effective rate was $0.577457 and the rollback rate was 0.625556. So we are above our effective rate and below our rollback rate,” said Hopkins County Tax Assessor-Collector Debbie Pogue Mitchell during the Sept. 2 public hearing for the tax rate.
While unchanged, that rate is expected to generate 6.39 percent more ($752,789) in revenues due to increases in property values, including $272,117 in revenue from new property added in the last year to tax roles.
The Commissioners Court this summer has held a series of workshops to develop and tweak the county budget. County Judge Robert Newsom described the projected figures are a “fairly conservative” balance budget for fiscal year 2019-2020. The changes in legislature that impact funding went into affect for schools this year, but won’t hit cities and counties until next year. Then, the fiscal outlook may not be as good. However, he believes with the conservative spending and the last couple of years in, which have been financially better for the county, the needs can be met.
This year’s budget includes a 5 percent cost of living increase for county employees. The sheriff’s and fire department budget will “get a little bit extra this year above all else.” The sheriff’s office’s food budget for inmates will increase to accommodate the increased number of inmates the county is housing for other counties and transport services; the county receives payment per day per inmate to house the inmates, which has been beneficial to the county.
A little bit extra was included in the fire department budget for the three on-duty lieutenants, one on each shift, as a means of getting the fire department pay scale closer in parity to beginning deputies’ pay.
The fire department this year added another employee in the environmental department to keep up with litter abatement as well, according to the county judge.
At the sheriff’s office, deputies will receive certificate pay in the coming year. However, funding will come from the forfeiture account, not the general fund. This is implemented to encourage officers to strive to improve themselves through additional education. They will receive a little more in their pay check for it as they advance, Newsom noted.
Also discussed for the upcoming budget was funding to renovate a county building at the corner of Rosemont and Houston Street. The building has been used for storage, especially during construction of the new jail. However, a hole in the roof continues to worsen. The building would be repaired in the spring. Newsom said the possibility of using the building for a work program for inmates has been discussed. The building will need to be more modernized to fit the need, however. Currently, jail trusties assist jailer-certified county precinct workers by providing valuable labor working on roads while learning skills that they can potentially apply toward future employment. The work program would offer different skills the jail inmates could learn and apply after being released from custody. Also discussed was potentially using the building as a mechanics shop, where inmates could learn mechanical skills and potentially earn industry recognized certifications for those skills.
Another cost savings the county is jointly exploring with the city is utilizing parts of old tires to help improve road bases on city and county roads. The county is especially looking to use the program on roads that have problems keeping a base, particularly wet areas. Inmate labor would be utilized to cut the tires down. The machinery needed for that, which is estimated to cost less than $5,000 would be shared by the city and county. The city and county would potentially charge others to accept their old tires, which would make them useful in roads, and help dispose of them, according to Newsom.
Funding also is included in the budget to improve security county-wide. The county will be transitioning an outside monitoring business to notify them when alarms are triggered, to an in-house system monitored by sheriff’s staff and dispatchers, the same communications operators who dispatch officers, fire departments and emergency response to calls in the county. Monitoring the security system in-house will cut out a step in the process of notification and response, which should provide a quicker response time, the county judge noted.
The county is saving money through the solar panel systems placed on some county buildings as well. The solar panels on the sheriff’s office and jail are already saving the county $1,500 a month on their electric bill; at that rate, that’d be about $18,000 a year saved in utility costs. The county was able to take advantage of a couple of opportunities which allowed the solar panels to be placed on the jail without having to pay for the panels. The county also qualified for a program to put solar panels on top of Hopkins County Fire Department’s Station 20. Panels were put on the Civic Center a few years ago, but they were knocked out due to high winds a while back and were offline for a while. As soon as they were fixed, however, it was reflected in the county’s electric bill.
Officials plan to continue watching for similar opportunities to participate in programs that will allow solar panels to be placed on additional county buildings at little or no cost to the county. Doing so not only is a cost savings in utility bills, but it’s better for the environment as well, according to Newsom.
In the coming year, full-time county employees will also be encouraged to participate in a new health incentive program, including a smoking cessation program as part of their county insurance. The county will also pay for gym memberships for full-time employees who use the service at least eight times a month. The idea behind the program is that it will help employees become healthier, which in turn will mean less time lost due to sickness, which is expected have a positive monetary impact on the county.
Newsom said FEMA funding to help with road repairs needed due to heavy rains over the last couple o years keeps coming in, and the county will continue to apply for grants and look for additional ways to make needed repairs at less cost to the county.
Hopkins County Commissioners Court will hold a public hearing Monday, Sept. 9 for the county budget. Then, they will be asked to vote on both the budget and tax rate for 2020. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Commissioners Courtroom on the first floor of Hopkins County Courthouse.