Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard prepares for Mondays commission meeting at the downtown Government Center. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — Christmas will come a little early this year for 577 Dougherty County employees, and it’s the County Commission that will serve as their not-so-secret Santa.
The commission will vote at its business meeting next week on a proposal to make a $500 lump-sum distribution to current full-time employees who were on the county payroll as of June 30. The bonus checks would go out separately from employees’ regular paychecks on Dec. 6.
The recommendation for the employee bonuses came from the commission’s Finance Committee.
“We’ve had a positive impact on our reserve funds for the last three years, and we felt our employees deserved some good financial news,” Finance Committee Chairman Lamar Hudgins said after Monday’s meeting. “I can’t imagine there would be any complaints (from the community). I didn’t hear any complaints from our employees when they were hit with a pay cut a couple of years ago.
“When the Budget Committee made a recommendation on the full budget, we said we’d see how things were tracking (on tax collections) before making a decision (on possible bonuses). The county administrator has done that, and we’re recommending a lump-sum disbursement to all employees. And, I want to stress, no county commissioner is included in this.”
County Administrator Richard Crowdis pointed out that county employees’ last cost-of-living adjustment was in 2007, that the last merit pay increase was in 2008, and that county employees had their number of holidays reduced from 10 to nine in 2010, had endured a 2 percent salary reduction when five unpaid holidays were implemented in 2010, had seen a 3 percent increase in retirement plan contributions in 2012 and had seen a number of increases in their insurance contributions.
Crowdis said the total adjustment to the county’s budget would be $334,275, which would come from the fund balance. Finance Director Martha Hendley said the fund balance is currently “around $14 million.”
District 4 Commissioner Ewell Lyle and Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard applauded the recommendation.
“We’ve hit our employees pretty hard the last few years,” Lyle said. “This is one small way we can make up for a little of that.”
Added Sinyard: “This is one way we can let our employees know how much we appreciate them.”
Also at Monday’s meeting, the commission was given a report by County Attorney Spencer Lee on its need to assess an annual ad valorem tax on all property of the county’s school district to secure $32,450,000 in debt service on bonds that are to be issued to the Dougherty County School System to fund capital improvements over the next five years.
“The resolution reads that you’re levying a tax, but there is no liability or exposure for taxpayers,” Lee said. “This will never get on the tax bill. Money for the bonds, which the school system is issuing to build out projects immediately rather than waiting until the E-SPLOST taxes are collected, will be paid for as those funds are collected.
“This matter was approved by county voters in the Nov. 8, 2011 election.”
The commission also discussed pending service delivery agreements with the city of Albany that will determine the cost each government will pay for services provided by the other entity. The 26 service delivery agreements are made to eliminate duplication of services within the county.
Crowdis told the board fire and recreation agreements must be in place by July 1, 2014. He said city and county staff would start working together in December to hammer out agreements each could live with. The other 24 agreements will expire June 30, 2016.
“We’re at an advantage in Dougherty County because we started these service delivery agreements with the city in the ’70s, before the Legislature (in HB 489) made it mandatory,” the county administrator said. “It’s a system that’s worked well.”
Lyle expressed concern that the negotiation process might devolve around ill feelings that developed between the city and county during recent local-option sales tax (LOST) negotiations. He said prolonged negotiations could “rip the city and county apart.”
Lee reminded the board that the agreements had nothing to do with LOST.
“I want to make this clear: LOST is over with,” the county attorney said. “These service agreements are a totally different thing. I’ve heard of no indication the city or county wants to change these agreements.”
Lee did, in response to a question by Hudgins, note that the county could “opt out” of any of the 26 agreements.
Commissioners were also introduced Monday to recently-named Library Director Pauline Abidde by Library Board Chairman Walter Kelley and to new Tax Director Shonna Colley by current Tax Director Denver Hooten, who will retire from the position at the end of the year.