The Washington County Commission’s Budget Committee approved pay raises for two employees and the creation of a new position, both in the Zoning Department, at its Wednesday meeting.
The change, which will face the full commission at its Nov. 28 meeting, passed on a tie-breaking vote from Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge. Commissioners Mitch Meredith and Pat Wolfe voted against the resolution, while Joe Grandy and Mark Larkey voted for it.
Under the change, Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford’s salary would be $73,866; his current salary is $63,505, and he is paid another $5,000 for stormwater-related duties. GIS Specialist Chris Pape would be made a chief deputy, and his salary would be $34,778 for the balance of the fiscal year, up from $25,277. In addition, a new deputy position would be created in the department at an annual salary of $33,000, according to the resolution.
Rutherford’s request was considered at an Oct. 11 Budget Committee meeting, where members voted to defer the issue for a month to have more time to look at the proposal. Since then, Rutherford revised his salary request down by $11,575.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Rutherford said the pay raises and new employee have been a “long time overdue,” citing his department’s growing duties in the county. When he was hired in 1989, he said, he was charged with enforcing the Washington County Zoning Resolution, but now the zoning department also works in planning, flood plain management, nuisance resolution enforcement, and provides assistance and staff to the County Commission.
“With increased responsibility should come increased compensation,” Rutherford said.
The resolution also states Rutherford’s salary would be reviewed annually by the oversight committee to see whether he would receive the state-calculated salary adjustment, if any, for county officials; and that Pape’s salary would possibly be increased over the next two years to a level comparable to other chief deputy salaries in county government.
Rutherford explained Pape’s skill set is far above his pay, and he was originally hired more than four years ago on a trial basis at around $25,000; an additional $10,000 that was set aside for his salary was ultimately removed from the department’s reserve by the Budget Committee before it could be given to him, he said.
Eldridge called the vote to approve the raises and new employee a “very significant compromise.”
“I think the salaries and positions in that office can certainly be justified with all the responsibilities,” Eldridge said. “We need those positions to help Washington County stay in compliance with state and federal mandates.”
The Budget Committee also approved $209,677 in funding for the Sulphur Springs EMS station, which the full commission will consider on Nov. 28. The money would go to construction of the building, interior finishing, a vehicle, technical rescue equipment, and a base station radio.
Eldridge said the new station would drastically reduce response times in the area. The money will come from the sale of the Downtown Centre, but because of the importance of the project it would be pulled from the county’s general fund if the sale fell though for any reason, he said.
Also at the Nov. 28 meeting, the full commission will again consider funding for the director of community relations and special projects position. The job, with a salary of $48,000, was sent back to the Budget Committee for reconsideration of that amount and the job description at the Oct. 31 commission meeting; at Wednesday’s meeting, Budget Committee members voted to send it back to the full commission for approval as is.
The committee also voted to approve a resolution to express the commitment of the County Commission to the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, which the full commission will consider Nov. 28. At Jonesborough’s request, the resolution states the commission “strongly supports the continued use of the International Storytelling Center’s Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall for storytelling activities and events in Jonesborough, and its continued use as the focal point of programs that enhance tourism and economic development and that continue to support jobs and produce revenues in Washington County. The Board of County Commissioners hereby strongly advocates and encourages the Town of Jonesborough and the International Storytelling Center to secure this important facility in order to support current storytelling activities.”
Washington County has an “ongoing” financial investment in the storytelling building, Eldridge said. Of the $750,000 the county pledged to help pay for the building, the county has $200,000 remaining to pay over four years.
Also approved was a recommendation to the full commission to endorse the creation of a Regional Airport Authority. A workshop will be held Monday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the details of the move.