by Stephanie Eaton
After much discussion, the Platte County Commission passed the county’s 2014 budget on a split vote.
During the Platte County Commission meeting held Monday, the commission held a public hearing to discuss the proposed 2014 budget.
At the end of the public hearing, the commission voted 2-1 in favor of the proposed budget. Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown voted against.
Brown said he voted against the budget because of the commission's decision to only give one county employee a raise in 2014.
According to the budget, one employee in the county's human resources department will receive a $2,575 pay raise. No other employee in the county will receive a raise in 2014, the commission says.
“I think it is a bad managerial decision,” Brown said after the meeting. “Singling out one employee against all other employees in the budget and giving them a raise. I think it is wrong and a bad managerial decision.”
While Brown voted against the budget, Platte County Commissioner Duane Soper said he stood behind the county's 2014 budget.
“It is a very lengthy process,” Soper said. “There are a lot of discussions between the commissioners about what they feel is a good decision and what they feel is not an appropriate decision. One of them which has been aired out in the public was about giving an additional increase in pay to one of our employees.”
Soper said during his term in office he has come to understand one thing.
“It would be nice if we could reward the people who work for our county every year,” Soper said. “We have amazing employees.”
However, Soper said there was simply no money in the budget to give raises. In November, Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson had recommended a two percent raise across the board for county employees.
The commissioners, likely seeing that sales/use tax revenue came in nearly one percent less than last year, did not follow the auditor’s recommendation.
According to Soper this was not the first time only one employee has gotten a raise.
“During the year 2011, there were two employees given $10,000 each when there were no other COLAs (Cost of Living Allowances) given. In 2010, there was an employee given a $3,271 increase. No COLAs given. In 2011, a $5,000 increase was given to someone. No COLAs given.”
Brown said although it was done in the past, history should not repeat itself.
“Just because you have done something in the past does not mean you have to repeat and do it again,” Brown said. “With all due respect I have learned from them (earlier decisions). This was a bad managerial decision to give it to one. I have seen more than one budget.”
Soper said he was disappointed how one employee's increase was aired out in the press.
“I am a little disappointed that it was aired out and singled out for this one person when it has been something that has gone on for several years. I am also disappointed that Commissioner Brown and us could not come to an agreement on a final budget.”
Soper said he worked hard to make sure that he had the best understanding when it came to the budget.
“I attended every meeting there was for this budget,” Soper said.
According to Soper, Brown missed 10 various budget meetings.
Brown did not deny Soper's accusations.
“I had not asserted that I made every single budget meeting,” Brown said. “He is correct. That does not mean I have not read the budget, that I do not understand the budget, and don't know things in the budget.”
Brown was not the only one who had a problem with the budget. Platte County Clerk Joan Harms also had a lot to say during the public hearing.
During 2013, the Platte County Clerk's office salary line item was $62,250. The department has two employees working under Harms. Harms said she did not need $62,250 for salaries for 2014. Harms had requested $57,000 for 2014, but the commission only approved $50,000 for the Platte County Clerk's office.
Harms said this cut to her department's budget was detrimental to her office. Harms said her office has seen a decrease in their budget since she took office in 2010.
“You can see from the 2010 budget when I took office it was approved at $74,881,” Harms told the commission. “Last year my budget I asked for was… I had $62,000. I left $5,000 in the account because I did not need all that salary this year and asked for $57,000. Returning $5,000 and then another $7,000 cut from the budget has left my office with a (staff) salary line of $50,000, which is very difficult to run an office with.”
During her discussion with the board, Harms mentioned the staff salaries of three other county offices that have three employees. Harms told the board that the county's information services office had a total line salary of $151,000 for all three people in the office.
The county's treasurer's office staff salaries were $62,000, Harms said. The auditor's office second line salaries were $99,400.
After her presentation to the board, Brown questioned Harms about what she wanted the commission to do.
“I would like to have what I have requested, which is $57,000, which is still below any other office,” Harms said.
“So I guess my first question is: Are you saying that the work that you do is the same as the other offices you are wanting to make your comparisons to?” Brown questioned.
“I am not,” Harms said. “I am just saying it is a three person office. I’m trying to keep a three person office open. No, we do not do the various things the other offices do. I would like you to look over those numbers and see if there is anything you could help me with.”
Soper then questioned Harms about her office cutting office hours from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
“Our business hours are from eight to five in this county,” Soper said. “Why would you change it to nine to four?”
Harms explained to commissioners that she did not have the budget to pay employees to work from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
She said she will stay and work some days until 5 p.m., but the new posted Platte County Clerk's office hours are from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
“Can you statutorily change your office hours as county clerk?” Brown asked.
Harms told the commission she is legally able to change the office hours.
“With my staff quoted at three quarter pay, that is what I posted the hours as,” Harms said.
Soper told Harms that while going through the budget process, commissioners did not always agree.
“I wanted to see your reduction $700,” Soper said. “That is not where it ended up.”
Harms asked Soper how he reached the $700 figure.
“That’s just the number I came up with,” he responded.
Brown questioned Harms whether or not she understood about other reductions in the budget.
“You are aware that there have been a lot of budget cuts and a lot of budget reductions?” Brown questioned.
“I have taken those cuts,” Harms replied back.
“So have a lot of other departments and so have a lot of other office workers,” Brown responded. “And somebody correct me in this room if I am mistaken. Nobody else has reduced their office hours. Their office hours are still their office hours.”
Brown questioned why the county clerk's office could not keep its 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. office hours with the two employees working at different times. Harms said it could not be done.
“This was a surprise to the staff to have this budget cut,” Harms said. “This is what I have tried to work out with them right now and we have come to this conclusion that these are the hours that they can work.”
Harms said she would like to have her office open 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. However, she maintained it would not be possible unless the office was given the $57,000 that she had requested for the budget.
“I want my office to be open 8-5 and to be given a fair and equitable salary,” Harms said. “I do not know why this budget cut was done to my office. It does not seem fair. It did not seem fair to the staff.”
Although there was a lot of discussion on the matter, commissioners did not vote to increase the salary line for the clerk’s office. It was, however, pointed out that the commission has the option to make budget amendments, after giving notice of its intention and offering the chance for public comment, at any point throughout the year.