Staffing, raises themes as county budget talks begin
The first round of county budget talks kicked off Monday as the Property Appraiser’s Office and the Clerk of Courts presented their budget proposals ahead of the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Property Appraiser Tim Parker and Clerk of Courts Tim Smith spent nearly an hour respectively making the case for their proposed budgets, both of which looked to improve work conditions in both offices.
While the Board of County Commissioners were expected to be present, Chairman Bill Pickens and Commissioner Terry Turner were absent.
The themes in both proposals were staffing and pay increases and the need to improve their respective agencies’ digital operations.
Parker, who presented first, said his office has maintained the same staffing levels for the last five years. He called it a top priority to recruit and retain employees as it “continues to be a major hurdle to running this office effectively.”
“Although I love living and working in Putnam County, there is an abundance of misinformation that exists out there in the media telling potential employees and residents otherwise,” said Parker, who added his office is currently looking to fill a vacancy.
The property appraiser’s proposal calls for a 2% increase from last year’s budget, from $1.89 million to just over $1.92 million.
Part of that increase is $77,000 to fund aerial photos to fulfill a three-year requirement by the state Department of Revenue.
Parker also lamented funding cuts to the county’s information technology department, which he said hampered his office’s ability to perform certain functions such as performing updates on its GIS website, slated to be online later this week.
Commissioner Larry Harvey asked whether it would be possible for the Property Appraiser’s Office to hire its own IT staffer to handle that issue in the future. Parker replied that it could happen in the future.
“We’ve thought about that … but we didn’t feel like we had to bring that this year,” he said. “If we did fund that, we’re talking about the $250,000 to $300,000 range.”
Commissioner Jeff Rawls, for his part, asked about the office’s staff and pay issues, an issue he has highlighted as county employees haven’t received a pay raise in more than a decade.
Pay raises for county employees have to be approved by county commissioners.
“This year, I’m advocating not just for pay raises, but adjustments across the board,” Rawls said. “We can’t perpetuate the problem that we see in the county, which is poverty. … A large portion of our employees falls below the poverty line.”
In the Clerk of Courts’ budget proposal, Smith requested a $123,000 budget increase, $104,000 of which to fully fund the hiring of an inspector general.
Of the $123,000 increase, the proposal accounts for $23,000 “offset by an expected increase in fees and service charges,” Smith said in a prepared statement.
The role of the new position, should the proposal be approved, would be government transparency and accountability by performing audits and investigations into alleged misconduct.
While the position would be funded using county dollars, Smith added collaboration opportunities with neighboring counties might be possible.
“It’s quite a burden for small, rural counties to be able to afford that, so (Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers) suggested to get started some work to see if there are opportunities for smaller counties to join with larger counties’ inspector general offices to share that work,” Smith said.
Harvey applauded the idea, calling the creation of the role and the possibility of inter-county partnerships “common sense.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” Rawls said.
But the conversation in both presentations returned to questions about pay raises for county employees, a theme which has been discussed in the run-up to this year’s budget negotiations.
Rawls said the county has long struggled with retaining county workers, including those who work in neighboring areas despite living within Putnam’s borders.
“I question whether how well off I would be if I worked for the county right now as firefighter or a paramedic or an EMT,” he said. “You wouldn’t have any loyalty out of me. I’m just looking for a meal ticket until I find my next job.”
Budget workshops continue 10 a.m. today at the County Administration Conference Room, 2509 Crill Avenue, Suite 200 in Palatka, where representatives of the county Supervisor of Elections Office and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office will present their budget proposals.