Heading into the fiscal year 2016 budget, beginning July 1, I am unenthusiastic about the current status of the county government. We have seen a great deal of progress since 2013, but I fear the pendulum might be swinging in the other direction.
As most of you know, government is an open book with me and I make no apologies for fervently pushing openness and transparency. It is your government, you pay for it and you should know what is going on.
Our Board of Commissioners committed to avoid deficit spending, meaning expenditures should not exceed revenue. We are not there in FY 2016.
Our current fiscal year 2015 budget has incentives and cost of living (COLA) increases in it. County staff proposed that we do the same in FY 2016. Neither Commissioner Randy Ognio nor I would support the COLA this year as the current and the proposed increase exceeded the cost of living index.
In past budgets, at the county administrator’s request, we began offering “one-time” incentive bonuses. Early on, I thought the incentive would help build motivation and momentum for a system that was flat. However, it appears the incentive payment will be proposed to the Board of Commissioners in perpetuity and it needs to be justified for future years.
The normal course of operations brings with it an expectation that each department should stay within its budget. Such an incentive should be a stimulus for action to create ways to reduce costs or increase productivity.
There was a motion to pay the incentive bonus on the first day of FY 2016 which Commissioner Ognio and I voted down because it would become a bonus for just showing up and nothing more.
There was also an attempt to increase employee retirement benefits at our last retreat. The increase was introduced with almost no notice. Again, Commissioner Ognio and I refused to support the increase because the funds were not available to cover the permanent increase in compensation.
For years, I have complained about some systemic problems that need to be addressed.
We are having a very difficult time executing projects. Many projects are funded, but there is little progress. Removing the blockage will, most likely, require funding.
We have done very little in the way of marketing for quality economic development and I fear that a new regional marketing initiative being launched will make our poor showing even worse if we do not find a way to enhance our efforts. This requires funding.
I still worry about policy and procedures being out of the control of the Board of Commissioners. Additional holiday time is being issued without official approval from the Board of Commissioners at a cost to our taxpayers. The county administrator is allowed to create policy governing his own behavior, allowing him to grant additional holiday time. This defies the budget process and affects productivity.
We need to make sure we are in compliance with state law on the disclosure of local government contracts. Meaningful disclosure necessitates the inclusion of those contracts in the Board of Commissioners’ meeting packets for the public and the news media to review. This promotes honesty and trust to the taxpayers who fund our annual budget.
I have a genuine concern with the county administrator being locked-in to all pay enhancements given to the employees at-large. The administrator position is a contract employee and a direct report to the Board of Commissioners. This structure is created to allow the administrator a level of autonomy from the staff at-large.
I have had some discussions with colleagues and concerned taxpayers about a potential loss of objectivity from the administrator position when he is contractually entitled to all incentives and increases that he promotes and encourages for the county employees.
The county administrator has a generous compensation package. I would like to see the contractual terms revised so that Board of Commissioners formulates an independent assessment regarding pay and bonuses for the county administrator as part of the required annual review process, giving the deliberations on county employee pay more credibility and objectivity.
I have witnessed a great deal of progress in the last several years, but we still have more ground to cover. The affairs of the county are on a more stable footing, but I am worried about accountability.
Steve Brown, commissioner
Peachtree City, Ga.