LEESBURG — Frustrated by his inability to get what he called equitable pay for personnel in his office, Lee County Magistrate Court Judge Jim Thurman used his budget hearing Friday to express that frustration to the Lee County Commission’s Budget Committee.
Told that employee salaries would be adjusted based on a pending pay survey, Thurman dismissed the survey as useless.
“I’ve been through about four of those in my 16 years here, and they were about as useless as t--s on a boar hog,” Thurman said. “You might as well have spent that money on toilet paper; at least we could have wiped with it.”
After listening to Thurman point out what he called pay discrepencies among courthouse personnel, Budget Committee Chairman Bill Williams assured the judge the current County Commission planned to use the results of the salary survey to adjust employees’ pay.
“This board will address this issue,” Williams said.
Friday’s third day of budget hearings included testy exchanges as department heads fought to keep as much of their requests as possible. The committee — Williams and Commission Chairman Ed Duffy — is trying to chop $1.697 million from proposals to bring in FY 2012-13’s projected budget at $21.9 million.
Fire Chief James Howell made a passionate plea for funding to replace the department’s rescue truck, which he noted was “three years older than any of the reserve ambulances” that had been taken off front-line duty. The committee said a new truck’s pricetag — $125,000 — made it a tough sell in a tight budget year.
“The fire department has been living on a shoestring budget the last five years,” Howell said. “And this is an extremely old vehicle in unstable condition. But it’s definitely one of our front-line vehicles.”
Duffy said he and Williams would try and find a way to finance a replacement vehicle.
“When you look at $125,000, that’s almost impossible to find in this tight budget,” Duffy said. “But since this involves public safety, we’re going to have some serious conversations about it.”
Williams asked Elections Supervisor Veronica Johnson if she could move advance voting from a separate room in the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building into her office to cut down on personnel while still meeting the state mandate of three workers present at all times during the early voting period. Johnson said she could not.
“There’s not enough space to conduct early voting in that office,” Johnson said. “We have a large number of paper ballots that come in to our office during a hotly contested election and during the presidential election in November, and we need the part-time help we have in the office to answer phones and deal with other issues in the office.”
Williams said the volume of early voters did not justify the use of three workers in addition to part-time employees in the Elections office.
“From what I’ve observed in other counties, I thought you might be able to work out a schedule that would allow us to eliminate one of the extra workers,” he said.
“What works at other locations does not correlate to here,” Johnson said. “With all due respect, (staffing issues are) a guessing game with us, but we are not going to do anything that puts us in jeopardy of violating state (personnel) mandates.
“Some of those other locations around the state (that adjust staffing) are the ones that are constantly being reprimanded for not complying with state law.”
The committee followed through with most of the cuts it had planned for Friday’s sessions: $47,830 from the tax assessor’s office, $6,000 from the Magistrate Court budget, $369,776 from the fire department and $35,730 from Elections.
Tax Assessor Joe Wright asked for funding for topographic imagery that he hopes to get for “40 cents on the dollar,” a request the committee OK’d.
Hearings will continue on Wednesday with the district attorney’s office, Parks and Recreation, the health department, Grand Island and Economic Development scheduled for meetings.