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Col. Mike Johnson surely must wish he had accompanied Sheriff Johnny Smith on his religious mission to Romania rather than stand before the Levy County Commission Tuesday asking for a 3 percent pay raise in the annual budget.
The county commission, which has asked departments to cut their budget requests by 5 percent from last year’s budget sent Johnson on his way with the direction to cut the sheriff’s budget by 5 percent.
The commission is facing another lean year as it starts holding budget workshops for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. County Property Appraiser Oz Barker has told the commission that land values have dropped by 11 percent.
Johnson presented the commission with a budget request for $12,164,045. Of that total $6,413,490 is for law enforcement, $4,667,639 for corrections, $839,666 for dispatch operations and $203, 250 for 911 addressing.
Johnson said the budget included 3 percent for pay raises and the associated increased costs, and capital outlay money to buy 10-11 new vehicles. Johnson noted the sheriff’s office had not replaced any vehicles in the past year and a number of cars are over 150,000 miles.
“Maintenance on those is going so high we have paid over $100,000 this year and that’s the cost of three new cars,” he said.
Commissioner Danny Stevens noted that is almost a third of the cost of buying the requested new vehicles.
Chair Nancy Bell was astounded by the request and voiced it.
“The departments were asked to cut by 5 percent and none are getting raises again this year … and they are parking their vehicles,” she said. “If everyone else is cutting and he’s (the sheriff) is staying the same.”
“What we don’t realize is we’re 24/7 (on the job) and most are 8 to 5,” Johnson said.
Bell reminded him there are other county employees who are also first responders operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Take the raises off,” Bell told Johnson.
The commission directed him to take 5 percent off the overall budget and re-submit it for their next workshop.
“Take the 3 percent raises out,” Commissioner Marsha Drew said. “You reduce the budget by 5 percent and that will take care of the salaries, then we will put in $200,000 for (inmate) medical.”
Drew asked Johnson how many dispatchers the office had and asked if he would end the practice of employees taking home cars if it would save one job in dispatch. “Have you figured out the costs?”
“People don’t live that far,” he said.
“Was it enough to save someone’s job?” Drew asked.
“Then it’s worth something,” Drew concluded.
“If we save one person’s job then it’s worth it,” Johnson said.
Commissioner Lilly Rooks let Johnson know why she favors cutting the budget rather than raising the current millage rate. “Folks out there are losing jobs and they can’t afford to pay taxes, can’t afford to buy groceries and can’t afford to buy gas and I can’t see raising taxes.”
“People are losing jobs and it’s going to be difficult. And I had assumed this was going to happen.”
County Tax Collector Linda Fugate did not present her budget although she attended the hearings to get a sense of what she should submit.
Barker presented his budget for $1,166,553, a drop of 1.1 percent from his current $1,179,947. He said one reason his budget has not dropped as much is he has multi-year contracts that will renew in the coming year for computer services and the communications line for the computers.
Barker said he is exploring cutting the cost of the communications line by sharing the line used by the clerk’s office.
He also included that staff has been cut in his office from 17 to 14.
“The state Department of Revenue has clamped down on the appraisers and they are tightening the noose,” Barker said noting his budget is also reviewed at the state level.
Supervisor of Elections Connie Asbell’s proposed budget calls for $448,105 in spending.
She said one problem with cutting her cost of services is that there are very few vendors available to do the required software for her office.
“It did increase a little,” Asbell said. “Is there and increase in salaries? No.”
Clerk of Courts Danny Shipp, who said he has laid off two people from his office said he is, however, looking to hire a second person to handle the information systems, better known as computers. He is looking to have a cost sharing by providing services to the tax collector and property appraiser to help fund the position.
“My budget is going up but it’s going to be paid for by them,” Shipp told the board.