The Washington County Commission restored nearly $223,000 in funds to the 2011-12 budget at its Monday meeting, almost unanimously approving all of the county budget committee’s recommendations for reinstatement but redirecting another committee’s request to restore funding for the county communications director position.
After massive cuts to the budget at a Sept. 8 called meeting, commissioners learned many of those cuts would have unintended and unwanted consequences for the county. At a Sept. 14 budget committee meeting, the cuts that would cause issues for the county were unanimously recommended to be restored to the budget and passed on to the full commission for approval.
At Monday’s meeting, the following funds were unanimously restored to the 2011-12 budget: $146,206 to the Washington County Economic Development Board; $1,977 for the First Tennessee Human Resource Agency; $901 to Washington County Soil Conservation to fully fund salaries and benefits; $6,105 to restore the full salary of County Mayor Dan Eldridge’s assistant; $8,000 to restore costs for the mayor’s office health insurance costs; $6,500 for a consultant contract that had been approved earlier in the year; and $50,000 for the county’s wellness program and contract with a nurse.
Also restored by a vote of 18-7 was $3,000 in funds to pay for several commissioners who have already committed to traveling to a conference in Murfreesboro.
As for the only job cut from the 2011-12 budget, the county communications director (a position held by Jeff Keeling), commissioners voted Monday to refer its reinstatement to the budget committee.
The $49,440 in funds for the position were eliminated Sept. 8, but recommended to be reinstated at a Sept. 14 general health and welfare committee meeting. The chair of that committee, Commissioner Joe Grandy, said Monday the budget committee is the proper body to take up the question of the funds, and all but two commissioners voted to refer the recommendation to the budget committee.
At the meeting’s end, Commissioner Mitch Meredith spoke to his fellow commissioners about the job cut, specifically addressing the 14 commissioners who voted for the budget on Sept. 8 that included eliminating the communications director salary.
Commissioners Greg Matherly, Joe Sheffield, Sam Phillips, Alpha Bridger, Joe Corso, Lee Chase, Richard Matherly, Gerald Sparks, Mark Ferguson, Mark Larkey, Roger Nave, Mike Ford, Ben Bowman and Pat Wolfe voted for the amended budget on Sept. 8; voting against the amended budget were Meredith, Ethan Flynn, Sam Humphreys, David Tomita, Pete Speropolus, Joe Grandy, Ken Lyon, Skip Oldham and David Shanks. Doyle Cloyd was absent from the Sept. 8 meeting and Commissioner Evert Jarrett attended but left before the vote was taken.
In his 33 years of accounting experience, Meredith said, he has learned an employer must take care of its employees, and agreed with an earlier comment made by another commissioner calling for the commission to be trustworthy. But the “sudden” budget changes at the Sept. 8 called commission meeting served to undermine both those goals, he said.
“You eliminated a position without cause by simply striking through the dollars,” he said.
He asked the 14 commissioners who voted for the budget that included the elimination of that funding if they had thought of the life they turned upside down, and said he was not proud of them because they, “for political purposes, chose to terminate an employee.”
“It’s a bad precedent for the commission to set,” he said to applause from the meeting’s audience. “You shouldn’t have done it and you need to fix it.”