The Warren County Board of Supervisors started pulling at the Gordian knot that is the county budget Tuesday.
“The way the code is written is complicated, it connects everyone to each other,” said board assistant Megan Andrew as she explained county payroll to new supervisor Darren Heater, who is experiencing his first budget process.
That’s true of almost everything the supervisors discussed as they covered five county departments Tuesday, including the budget for the supervisors themselves, support for the Warren County Historical Society and maintenance for county facilities.
While the county will benefit from an increase in valuation, providing an extra $430,812 for the general basic fund, which covers all county services, supervisors also have new expenses that will be part of the 2022 fiscal budget, including operations of the new Warren County Justice Center and a $250,000 annual maintenance agreement for the new emergency 911 system.
The county’s fiscal budget year runs from July 1, 2021 through June 30 of 2022.
The board will meet over the next couple of weeks with department heads from all of the county’s departments. The first departments to offer their budget needs were the supervisors themselves on Tuesday, including county-wide salaries.
Contracts for union employees have been set, with AFSCME employees receiving a 2.5 percent increase and sheriff’s department employees receiving a 3 to 2.75 percent increase. Traditionally, explained Andrew, the board gives the same cost of living adjustments to non-union employees.
Salary increases for elected officials, such as the county treasurer, recorder, auditor, attorney and supervisors are recommended by a county compensation board, which recommended 6 percent increases for all elected officials, except for Warren County auditor. Board members recommended a 9-percent increase for that position.
But those numbers are far from final, said Andrew.
“We drop it every year,” she said. “The code is written that the board can’t drop one. If you drop one, then you have to drop them all. The board can drop theirs without dropping anyone else. The way the code is written is complicated, it connects everyone to each other.”
“That’s so frustrating,” responded Heater.
The board agreed to reduce the recommendation by 66.6-percent, and to consider reducing the increase for the supervisors to somewhere between 0 and 3 percent.
Human resources director Tessa Baskerville also asked the board to consider upgrading its personnel systems.
“There's just a lot of things in ADP that we're not essentially using just yet, but could down the road,” she said. Baskerville said she was particularly interested in software for performance reviews. Or at least providing employees with reviews.
“I think that’s important,” said Baskerville. “I honestly don’t know if every department does reviews or not.”
In the year since she became the county’s first full-time human resources professional, Baskerville said the only performance evaluations she has seen are those done by the board. State audits of the county regularly note that the county isn’t following best practices on reviews, said Andrew. Employees get a cost of living increase annually as well as a step increase every other year.
“Every year, every employee is getting the same raise, no matter if your performance is good, if your performance is bad,” said Baskerville. Changing the system concerned the supervisors.
“It sounds great,” said DeKock. “But it would be months and months of work and it probably wouldn’t be real well received. The first person who doesn’t get it, it will not be well received.”
Baskerville suggested the board could start by encouraging the reviews, without basing payroll changes on them right away. “Baby steps,” she said.
“That will take action by the supervisors,” Andrew said. The board could tell department heads that their employees won’t receive merit increases unless reviews are done, she said.
“I am all for reviews,” said Heater, who was elected in November and took office at the beginning of this year. “But this is a total change of culture, total change of management style, total change. Seven days into this, I’m not ready to take this on. I don’t know enough to understand the implications.”
The board agreed to start by talking to department heads about doing performance reviews during the upcoming budget sessions.
The board also reviewed a request from the Warren County Historical Society, which usually gets $1,000 a year from the county.
“This is the first time the historical society has ever asked for an increase,” said Andrew, but the group asked for $2,000 this year, saying that it had been closed for weeks at a time, unable to rent buildings for meetings or to host is annual Log Cabin Days Festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The board agreed.
Andrew said her estimate for the cost of health insurance for county employees dropped by about $100,000 after the county added a high deductible option for employees.
The board also reviewed a proposed five-year maintenance plan for the couny, including projects ranging from replacing HVAC controls at the administration building for $80,000 down to adding picnic tables and benches for $5,000.
Projects on the 10-year list would include possibly tuck pointing the administration or templte buildings at a cost of $150,000 each.
DeKock said he was interested in having the ducts cleaned at a cost of $20,000, and possibly tackling one of the tuckpointing jobs.
“There’s never going to be a point where the board is going to be saying, ‘this is the time,’” he admitted. “Tuckpointing is so not glamorous.”
But DeKock and Heater both agreed that maintenance is important.
“To me what you’re doing is critical,” Heater told Baker. “Let’s take our maintenance program to the next level. Whatever we need to do to maintain our facilities, you have my support.”