FARMINGTON — The Franklin County commissioners reviewed the budget for fiscal year 2023 during their meeting on April 19.
Commissioner Clyde Barker participated via Zoom. At the end of the meeting he said he would be submitting a letter of resignation for June; after an illness requiring hospitalization, he reported he was not recovering well and felt the stress was too much. He had hoped to finish his term as commissioner but indicated he would not be able to do so, and said that he would miss working with everyone.
The budget process began with department heads developing their budget requests. The commissioners then reviewed the requests, gathered information, and made alternations they deemed necessary.
The Franklin County Soil and Water requested $28,000, an increase of $8,000 over the previous year. The commissioners approved $24,000.
Franklin County Extension Service requested a total of $62,539. The previous year they received $49,400. The increase was primarily for wages and the commissioners approved a total of $55,000.
Franklin County Emergency Management Agency initially asked for $204,028 for operations, wages, and vehicle reserve. Because a new vehicle has been purchased this year, Director Tim Hardy agreed to reduce the vehicle reserve from $5,000 to $1,000. An additional $28 will be subtracted from somewhere within that department for an even total of $200,000.
The Franklin County Regional Communications Center was still in contract negotiations with the county. Estimates for wage increases were built into the budget, according to Interim County Clerk Vickie Braley, although those could still increase beyond the sum allocated. The requested total of $1,032,178 was approved unanimously by the commissioners.
A request for $3,700 from the Franklin County Fireman’s Association was unanimously approved.
In the County Commissioners budget, Commissioner Lance Harvill made a motion to increase the training fund line by $1,985, to have some extra funds for the new county administrator position. The total budget was approved at $235,000, over the $233,015 originally requested.
Neil McLean, Assistant District Attorney who is currently running for the District Attorney position after Andrew Robinson left to take up a judgeship, presented the DA’s office budget along with Sarah Caton, office administrator and trial assistant.
The original request was for a 5.9% Cost of Living Adjustment wage increase for all employees along with a $6 per hour wage increase for Caton. The total budget was $328,266.
McLean recommended the wage increase for Caton because of her increased workload, years of experience, and dedication to the county. He stated that in assembling the budget, the office came up with a figure first and then proposed it to Caton.
Commissioner Barker said, “I agree. Sarah is worth every cent of it.”
The commissioners approved a 5% COLA raise for employees and a $5 per hour raise for Caton, for a total budget of $305,907.
In the Treasurer’s Department, treasurer Pam Prodan requested that the pro-rated health and flexible benefits previously offered to the treasurer’s position be re-instated. During the COVID-19 pandemic the commissioners removed the benefits package from the treasurer’s position, stating that the county did not offer benefits for part-time employees and that the treasurer fit under that category. Prodan contested that the county’s policy handbook provided for a pro-rated benefits package of 35% of the full-time employee benefits.
Referring to the policy handbook, Tiffany Baker with Human Resources stated that the county commissioners and the treasurer should receive 35% of the full-time benefits and that part-time, salaried department heads along with the Judge of Probate should received 70% of the full-time benefits.
Following a break for lunch, the commissioners voted to approve an increase in benefits from the $17,400 allocated last year to $20,400. Accounting for other personnel benefits increases, Harvill said that Prodan would get around $2,500 in benefits, which he said was roughly equivalent to the Registrar of Probate’s benefits.
The commissioners approved $141,886 for the treasurer’s department, $4,285 less than the department request.
Similar to last year, Technical Services requested $20,000 for a server upgrade and $7,000 for equipment replacement. The commissioners agreed to zero-out those funds, reducing the budget from $279,937 to $252,937.
The County Courthouse operations included $5,100 to replace the flooring in Probate. The commissioners approved the budget request of $144,643.
The Franklin County Detention Center is the largest departmental budget in the county. The initial request was for $2,456,243.
The commissioners noted there is nearly half a million dollars still in the jail accounts from the current year and wondered if they could use that to reduce the next year’s budget. Sheriff Scott Nichols said that the surplus is largely due to unfilled positions in the jail, along with bills that have not been paid, payroll, and other expenses for the remaining months in the current fiscal year.
There will be an increase in contracted medical services, but the department did not have that figure at the time they presented the budget; they included a 3% estimated increase.
In addition, $51,000 was requested to purchase a new transport van. The van they need to replace will likely not pass inspection this year, Nichols said.
The commissioners agreed to reduce the HVAC (heat, ventilation, and air conditioning) line from $30,000 to $20,000. Taking into account an increase for Pretrial Services and some other tweaks and adjustments, the commissioners approved a total budget of $2,451,090. This was an increase of $149,389 over last year.
At the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the requested budget of $1,861,393 was only about $3,000 higher than last year’s budget. This was largely because the department was able to purchase hybrid cruisers utilizing American Rescue Plan Act funds from the federal government, reducing the local tax impact.
Braley noted there was a little over $43,000 in the vehicle reserve account that could be carried forward, so Nichols agreed to reduce the vehicle fund request from $30,000 to zero for the upcoming year.
There were increased training costs over last year, along with increases in the Criminal Investigations division.
The commissioners approved the Sheriff’s Office budget at $1,831,393.
Commissioners approved the Registry of Deeds request for $235,405. Last year’s budget was $224,149, and the increase was in wages and benefits.
Following negotiations in executive session, adjustments were needed for the personnel services line in Probate. The budget was increased by around $1,100 for a total of $204,791.
The Superior Court budget remained the same as last year, $3,000, and was approved unanimously.
In concluding, Barker said he wanted to add in funding for the Greater Franklin Development Council.
Harvill said he would not support that motion, only because the new county administrator was hired with experience in economic development and he wanted to see how that went. He stated he would be willing to spend TIF dollars for the GFDC, but no formal action was taken.
The Franklin County Budget Committee will follow roughly the same process as the commissioners in reviewing and approving the budget. The first budget committee meeting is Wednesday, April 20, at 6 p.m.