County Commission approves budget
Dirt road paving priority, 2 percent pay raise, one-time pay increase for retirees top discussion list, as well as other pay raise requests
Sept. 28, 2017

By Blenda Copeland

The Russell County Commission has approved next fiscal year’s budget.

The General Fund is proposed to be around $16.37 M -- a $286,438 increase over last year’s figures, according to LeAnn Horne, county administrator, during a budget hearing Sept. 22.

During her review, Horne said the county has maintained its A+ Standard & Poors credit rating and is “stable and financially secure.” 

Commissioners approved on Monday a 2 percent across-the-board cost of living adjustment for eligible regular county employees employed more than six months. They also approved Commissioner Gentry Lee’s motion to give a one-time pay increase to the county’s 63 affected retirees. It was stated that the legislature approved a $600 one-time pay increase to retirees. 

Meanwhile, about $627,020 was discussed Sept. 22 as the estimated amount set aside (before making changes) for the county’s appropriations to area agencies -- a decrease of $776,020 from last fiscal year.

One highlight of budget discussion included the Russell County Coroner Arthur Sumbry Jr. asking the commission for an approximately $19,000 raise to, in his view, bring him in line with what he said other full-time county department heads appear to make as a base salary. The county administrator said the salaries vary, depending on job description, job duties, etc. If approved, the raise would have brought the coroner’s salary up to around the $57,000 range, according to discussion. In addition, during discussion, Commissioner Chance Corbett clarified that Sumbry was asking for almost $40,000 in salary increases for the coroner’s office. In response, the coroner stood by the request: “They’re sacrificing a whole lot more and getting paid a whole lot less,” he said of his employees. (Commissioner Gentry Lee motioned Sept. 25 that the coroner and his employees stay at their current pay levels and receive the 2 percent raise all other county employees are slated to get.)

Another highlight included a brief discussion about whether to consolidate the Building and Code Enforcement office with the Special Enforcement and Nuisance Complaints office. Discussion also pointed out that Bill Friend also has been temporarily leading the county Parks & Recreation Office while handling his other assigned duties. It was mentioned that as of Oct. 1, Friend prefers not to continue handling the interim Parks & Rec director duties. There was some discussion of his salary, and Commissioner Cattie Epps said that if the county merges two department heads together, it should be under one person. She also talked about employees’ workloads and how “we can’t even give them a 3 percent increase.” She opined that it seemed like the ones who get prime increases are not the ones who are doing the hard work that makes the county “look good.” A coroner assistant sitting next to the coroner nodded as Epps spoke. Epps said in short that she wasn’t “fussing,” but rather saying that the commissioners need to look at doing business differently and being better stewards. Friend chimed in to Epps that an “additional $30,000” is what he requested if he were to permanently continue handling the duties that had been given him.

In yet another highlight, the county administrator advised county commissioners that their discretionary $10,000 worth of money is listed in the Parks & Rec department budget for the items they’d like to see like swings, picnic tables, fencing, etc. -- rather than in the appropriations section this year.

There also was discussion about the county’s garbage trucks. Sanitation Director Wanda Hardie explained that there were a lot of increases in her department’s budget this year, for good reason. She said two of the county’s garbage trucks both have more than 1 million miles of mileage and “just by the grace of God” have still been able to make the punishing two hours round-trip treks three times a day to drop the county’s trash off at a Taylor County, Ga., landfill. One truck will be replaced. 

As it is routine, a large part of the county budget discussion was about which county dirt roads would be paved this coming year. As usual, the county engineer told commissioners he’d do what they told him to. However, like the previous county engineer, he’d rather see his department’s budgeted money go toward maintaining the county’s roads that are already paved and yet “falling apart” as they await re-surfacing. Seven roads were discussed as candidates to be paved: Lynn, Pitts, Carden, Gamage, Screws and Isabell roads and also Lakeview Drive. Commissioners Larry Screws and Chance Corbett batted back and forth over whose districts should get priority in the paving schedule. When it was pointed out that Commissioner Screws’ road was on the candidate list, he unwaveringly stood by it: “I’ve waited 10 years to pave it,” he said, noting other commissioners’ districts received paved roads in the meantime. “Now it’s time to get my road paved.” Ultimately, Corbett motioned that priority on paving be given to Lynn, Carden and Isabell roads, and if there’s time left, then to Screws Road and Lakeview Drive. As discussion continued and Screws kept championing for higher priority for Screws Road, Corbett retracted his motion. It was unclear if a precise decision was made on the dirt road paving priority, as the commission moved on for time’s sake, to other budget topics.

Another highlight included a presentation from Victor Cross, Phenix City-Russell County Chamber of Commerce president, who said he’ll be available after Dec. 31 if the commission needs someone with his qualifications to fill an open county economic development slot. “I’m not interested in retiring,” he said, referring to the end of his employment later this year with the chamber.

In a second, separate presentation, Mik Cole, who does the county’s public relations/marketing on a contracted basis, asked for a pay increase to $15 an hour. It appeared comissioners wanted Cole to review her contract with the county attorney. It was unclear whether Cole’s salary increase request was approved or not.