Bradley County’s 2019-20 budget process took another step forward Monday, with the presentation of the Schools and Road Department budgets to the County Commission.
Bradley County’s 2019-20 budget process took another step forward Monday, with the presentation of the school system and Road Department budgets to the County Commission.
Bradley County Schools
Susan Willcut, the school system’s finance director, presented the $70 million budget to commissioners. It includes step raises for teachers and 2% “across the board” raises for all salaried employees. Contracted bus drivers will also get 2% pay increases.
The bulk of the coming year’s budget — 82% — will be for salaries and benefits. Contract services, which includes pay for bus drivers, accounts for 7%. The budget also sets aside $1,750,000 for capital outlay, including $250,000 for technology refresh programs, as well as various building-related needs.
Local funding comes from property tax revenue (45%), sales tax revenue (49%) and all other local funding (6%).
Commissioner Milan Blake, who serves as chairman of the Finance Committee, asked about the ESG contract the school system did a few years ago for energy savings. He asked how much has been paid and how much is still owed. Willcut said $1,177,490 has been paid in principal and $942,351 paid in interest. The remaining contract total to be paid is $18,548, 616 — $15,011,009 in principal and $3,537,606 in interest, she said.
Blake said the ESG contract is the school system's debt but in audits is shown as part of the overall county budget. He also noted the school system presented a balanced budget, but had to use the fund balance to accomplish that. Willcut said that is correct, noting for the past few years the school system has had to use its fund balance for some items, like capital outlay expenses.
Blake said the school system has a 3.7% fund balance, but also has a plan to get the fund balance above 5%. He noted that is not reflected in the budget request.
"There's nothing on here that shows actuals," Willcut said, adding she feels comfortable the fund balance will reach 5%.
Willcut noted she has talked to two auditors who she said told her they only check for the 3% fund balance for the local requirement and 5% for the state requirement on July 1.
"I can all but guarantee you that will happen," she said.
Blake asked about Account 44110, which is for interest earned. He asked how it got up to $107,860 from the $32,000 budgeted in the current fiscal year. Willcut said she has had success in investing and increasing the amount of a certificate of deposit, adding she worked with the Trustee's Office on it.
Blake thanked Willcut for presenting the budget, and also for sending budget amendments to the Finance Committee throughout the year, rather than waiting until the end of the year.
Blake then asked Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash to speak regarding retaining employees.
"What issues are you seeing with attracting and retaining teachers?" he asked.
Cash said there are instances where teachers are trained and leave the school system after a year or two.
"Most of them end up wanting to come back," she said.
There are also nearby school systems — Hamilton County, for example — that offer incentives for teachers to work there, which Bradley Count can't do.
"Our benefits are strong but there are some counties whose benefits are stronger," Cash said, adding salaries here are currently higher than a few neighboring systems.
In addition, Cash said the school system is working to hire new employees "earlier and earlier."
Bradley County Road Department
Bradley County Road Superintendent Sandra Knight said she appreciates being able to delay her budget presentation until she had a better idea of state and federal funding. As presented, the budget request shows $9,457,053 in total available funds and $8,749,856 in total expenditures and transfers.
Knight said the request includes a 3% raise for employees. She said last year $80,000 was removed from the Road Department budget that "knocked our employees out of their raise."
Commissioner Charlotte Peak said last year she was a member of the Finance Committee and recalls the Road Department budget included a pay increase request even though the county mayor specifically asked department heads and elected officials not to include requests; the plan was for the County Commission to decide on countywide increases. County Mayor D. Gary Davis said this year a 3% pay increase is in the budget request.
Peak asked if there are any unfilled positions. Knight said there is one vacant position in next year's budget request.
Knight said her department "wish list" includes a couple of new dump trucks, a curbing machine, and large scanners for scanning records.
"That is one of my top priority things I'd like to see happen," Knight said of the scanners.
Commissioner Bill Winters said the County Commission has discussed under-compensated employees — increasing pay is commissioners’ top priority for the 2019-20 budget year. He asked how many lower-paid employees are in the Road Department. Knight said six employees were brought up to $12 per hour, and they are the lowest paid. She said when employees get their CDL (commercial driver’s license), they can work at any of a number of companies earning an average of $16 per hour.
County Commission Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber asked how many people are employed by the Road Department. Knight said there are 61 employees. He then asked for the median salary, which Knight said is $28,000 to $30,000 per year.
Gloria Hayes, administrative assistant at the Road Department, said all employees are hourly except for herself and Knight.
Commissioner Thomas Crye asked to confirm that no Road Department employee earns less than $12 per hour, and that average income is $28,000 to $30,000. Knight said that is correct. Crye pointed out workers can earn $15 per hour stocking shelves at Walmart, earning $31,200 per year.
Davis asked Knight to clarify how she plans to allocate the 3% pay increase she has included in her budget. Knight said she plans a 3% across-the-board increase.
Yarber asked Knight to reconsider giving an across-the-board increase because "it creates more pay disparity" between the highest-paid and lowest-paid workers.
"I would ask you to consider that," he said.
Commissioner Kevin Raper asked if there is a date for the countywide Americans with Disabilities Act plan. Knight said the plan is due to the state by December. As an example of the extensive plan, Knight said for Benwood subdivision alone, it could cost more than $600,000 to put in correct sidewalks; that cost doesn't include demolition of the existing sidewalks.
Davis said Knight is projecting a low percentage fund balance "but you never get to where you project," meaning the fund balance never gets as low as projected. Hayes said the Road Department has about a 7% fund balance to meet state requirements; she added the department actually has about an 8 percent fund balance.
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