Washington County Commissioners approved pay raises and the creation of a new position in the Zoning Department by a vote of 19-5 at their Monday meeting.
Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford will see his salary increased to $73,866 from $68,505; GIS Specialist Chris Pape will be made a chief deputy and his salary will increase to $34,778 from $25,277; and a new position of a deputy planner will be created at a salary of $33,000, with all items going into effect Dec. 1.
The motion passed 19-5, with Commissioners Mitch Meredith, David Tomita, Ethan Flynn, Ken Lyon and Pat Wolfe voting no.
Pete Speropulos, chairman of the Zoning Administration Oversight Committee where the funding request originated, said the money would enhance the department and recognize the expansion of duties of the office.
“This department is a revenue-generating department,” he said. “The funds from this department will continue to grow. As far as increases in salaries for employees, you have to kind of think of it like a maintenance item: If you don’t take care of what you got, you’re going to lose it.”
Tomita questioned the timing of the request and said he would like to see evidence of the increasing revenues in the department.
“Most of what we’ve been voting on (tonight) has been adding back things we’ve cut and items considered to be in the best interest of county. We’re in an interesting economy. I know we need to take care of our employees, but we did. We gave them a raise across the board,” Tomita said. “We’re living in an age where companies in the private sector are cutting positions, not getting raises. ... Why now? Why is the salary of the zoning administrator at the top of our priority list?”
If revenues are increasing, Tomita said, he would he happy to share the money through raises; if not, “it will be a slap in the face to every other county employee.”
Wolfe, who voted against the motion in a Nov. 16 budget committee, said this was not the time to be adding positions. He also said positions need to be reviewed and evaluated before raises were considered. In addition, he would not want the recurring costs to impact other salaries.
“I’d have a hard time looking a teacher in the eye or another county employee and explaining to them why we’re giving these raises and I didn’t give them the 3 percent,” Wolfe said.
Commissioners also approved funding a new Sulphur Springs EMS Station for $209,677. The EMS station request was unanimously approved in a Nov. 16 Budget Committee meeting, when EMS Director Allen Taylor gave a presentation showing the need for the construction of a new station. The station would cover 36 miles and cut the response time in that area from between 11 and 15 minutes to less than five, county officials said. The $209,677 in funds will pay for the building’s construction on donated land, as well as interior finishing, a vehicle, technical rescue equipment, and a base station radio. The money is expected to come from the proceeds of the sale of the Downtown Centre, but would be provided from the general fund should anything with the sale fall through, according to the resolution. The station will be ready April 1, according to Taylor. Washington County will own the building.
Flynn asked about recurring costs for the EMS station and where that money would come from.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said EMS will cover the new station’s operating expenses through the end of this fiscal year, and the county would then pay about $144,000 in annual operating expenses starting in July 2012. Before that point, the county will need to figure out a way to fund that, Eldridge said.
Also at the meeting, commissioners approved paying former county Communications Director Jeff Keeling the amount of $10,470, funds already paid to Keeling while the county was running on a continuing budget. The vote was 15 commissioners in favor, with 10 commissioners voting no. Voting against the motion were: Doyle Cloyd, Alpha Bridger, Joe Corso, Richard Matherly, Mark Ferguson, Gerald Sparks, Roger Nave, Ben Bowman, Evert Jarrett, and Roger Shanks.
Ferguson asked the mayor if he could not find the funds in his office’s budget, rather than pull from the county’s unappropriated surplus. Ferguson specifically referred to a line item of $5,000 for contracted services in the mayor’s budget.
According to Eldridge, that money is already committed in a contract to Keeling, who is being paid that for maintaining and updating the county’s website. Eldridge said he did not have the resources in his office to do that job and chose to contract the work to Keeling.
When Ferguson asked why the county commissioners had not approved that action, Eldridge said they were not required to do so.
Commissioners also finally voted on the fate of the funding for the director of community relations and special projects position. The funding was not approved, with 13 voting no and 10 commissioners voting to approve the funding. Those voting no were: Cloyd, Bridger, Chase, Corso, Flynn, Richard Matherly, Ferguson, Gerald Sparks, Roger Nave, Mike Ford, Ben Bowman, Roger Shanks, and Pat Wolfe. Two commissioners were absent.
Questions were again brought up about the $48,000 salary cap placed on the job in discussions before the vote.
Chase called for more flexibility in the education and experience requirements, and Corso said he would like to see a range of salaries. Ferguson added that by talking about the $48,000, he didn’t see how anyone would take less in pay if they knew what the county is willing to pay. In addition, Cloyd said $48,000 was too much to start someone out, when long-term county employees were making less than that cap.
Matherly defended the position, saying whoever was hired would help do research, be a contact person, prepare commission packets, and play many other vital roles to the county commission. He encouraged commissioners to consider funding the position.
After the vote, Tomita said the inconsistency between the vote on the zoning administration salaries and the vote on the community relations position was “troublesome.”
On a final note, commissioners nearly did not consider many of the items in the 326-page agenda on Monday.
Commissioner Roger Shanks, who said he did not receive the commission packet until 5 p.m. on Monday, moved to table the agenda with the exception of the mayor’s proclamations and the resolutions to consider the redistricting process and create a Regional Airport Authority.
“I don’t even have any idea what’s in the agenda,” Shanks said. “I move we put the rest of the packet on the table until the commission pleases.”
Once the meeting was officially opened, Shanks made his motion again, and amendments were added so that the final motion would table all the agenda items except for the Airport Authority resolution, the redistricting resolution, the EMS station vote, and the vote to finalize the sale of the Downtown Centre. The next time the commission could consider the other items without advertising every single item in the newspaper would be the commission’s December meeting.
The motion to table most of the items was voted down, 15-10. Voting yes were Sam Humphreys, Skip Oldham, Mitch Meredith, Sam Phillips, Lee Chase, Joe Corso, David Tomita, Ethan Flynn, Ken Lyon, and Roger Shanks.