Employee raises break county budget

Published 9:05 am Thursday, September 8, 2022

NATCHEZ — County officials will have to perform major surgery on their budget to move fund balances out of the red and into the black, County Administrator Angie King said during their Tuesday meeting.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors held a budget hearing Tuesday and plans to have a second budget hearing before a final budget is approved on Sept. 15.

The E911 department broke its budget by $350,000 and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office—the county’s largest department—went over budget by $750,000, leaving the county approximately $900,000 in the red, King said.

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The expense at the sheriff’s office doesn’t include maintenance on the county jail, which King said is costly in its deteriorating condition. Near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors unanimously agreed to start a negotiation process with Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office to house inmates at one of its facilities instead.

King said employee raises were partly to blame for the departments going over budget.

Sheriff’s deputies traditionally have a starting pay of $16.01 per hour and jailers have a starting pay of $12.60, but many started and immediately received a 5 percent pay increase when supervisors approved across-the-board pay raises, King said.

“The agreement from the beginning was that everyone would have a starting pay, not start new people coming in with a pay increase. They’d have another starting pay. But everybody has moved everybody up with the raises and now no one in the jail is making $12.60 an hour. We’re in a bad situation. … The budget is busted,” she said.

E911 Director Annette Fells on Tuesday asked supervisors to consider another pay increase for dispatchers in the upcoming budget, which would bring their pay up to $15 per hour. Fells said this would make her department competitive with what dispatchers in surrounding areas make.

King said E911 has always carried a negative balance in its budget because, while providing a necessary service to the community, E911 doesn’t earn money.

In March, supervisors approved a $1 per month levy on all phone carriers, including cell phones and voice-over-Internet phones, to support E911 services. The funds collected from this would help but will not be enough to fill the budget gap, King said.

Board President Wes Middleton said the board only has two options, cut the budget or raise taxes—which he added wouldn’t be fair to taxpayers who are already struggling in this economy.

“You want raises, you want a new dispatch office and you want a new jail but where’s the money coming from?” he said.

In other matters during Tuesday’s meeting of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, the board:

  • Unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Natchez for splitting the Morgantown Road resurfacing project into two phases. The MOU is to be sent to the City of Natchez for further approval.
  • Unanimously approved an interlocal agreement between the county, the Natchez-Adams County Airport Commission, and the City of Natchez for matching money needed for a $750,000 risk mitigation grant that could lead to commercial air service at the airport. Per the agreement, the county puts up $200,000, the city puts up $100,000 and the airport commission puts up $50,000 of the matching funds.
  • Unanimously approved a $1,500 purchase of cameras for Robins Lake dam. Supervisors heard a presentation from Road Department Director Robbie Dollar about continuing issues at the dam with people drilling or shooting holes in the culverts that control the water level to stop the dam from breaking. If it breaks, it could cause households to flood. “This has been an ongoing issue,” Middleton said. “It’s blatant damage to public property and puts a high risk to life and public safety. If we catch you, we will take it as far as we can.”