It’s extremely rare for county commissioners to disagree during the meeting of the full commission, but that’s what happened Monday night when it came time to pass the 2019-20 budget.
A resolution to pass a $141.58 million budget that included a three percent raise for all county employees (except teachers) was on the agenda. It also included an education incentive that would give additional raises to county employees with college degrees.
Commissioner Harold “Poochie” Twisdale, who is the chairman of the public works committee, made a budget amendment motion to get rid of the education incentive and give county employees a six-percent raise.
After about 15 minutes of comments on both sides of the issue, the amendment passed, 9-7. Moments later the budget passed, also 9-7. The same commissioners who voted for the amendment voted yes on the budget, and vice versa.
Commissioners voting for the amended budget were Shelia Barlow, Rusty Wooten, Bob Wilson, Jimbo Adkins, Courtney Fee, Lamont Sneed, Chris Armstrong, Jonathan Murphy and Twisdale. Voting against it were Mike Naifeh, Jeff Mason, Richard Kelley, Walker Adams, Glenn Turner, Michelle Smith and David Copeland. Stephen Shopher and Tommy Dunavant abstained.
Copeland, a member of the finance committee which met multiple times to get the budget together, called Monday night’s amendment “very concerning.”
“We worked very hard on this budget,” Copeland said. “This has not been run by finance at all.”
“We worked on this budget for two months,” said Adams, another finance committee member. “When we left that last meeting, all but one agreed on the budget. It (education incentive) was for retention and recruitment. All the departments can’t be equal. Some will make more money. It’s very disturbing that two months of work got dismantled … There’s no fair way out of this. Somebody’s feelings are going to get hurt.”
Turner, another finance committee member, said he was the one who voted against the education incentive in a finance committee meeting.
“It’s a funding liability,” he said. “You never know for sure how much it’s going to cost.”
Copeland said no one from the general welfare or public works committees came to finance meetings to ask questions about the budget.
Said Adams: “Shame on you … You shouldn’t vote on a personal agenda.”
Twisdale said some public works employees make between $22,000 and $24,000 per year and that they deserved more.
County Executive Jeff Huffman said few if any public works employees other than director Shannon Reed would have qualified for the education incentive raise, which included two percent for those with an associate’s degree, four for a bachelor’s, six for a master’s and eight for a doctorate. Those raises would have been in addition to the proposed three percent raise.
“I think six percent across the board is fair to everybody,” Twisdale said.
The tax rate of $2.42 passed unanimously. It’s the same rate as last year.
At last month’s county commission meeting a resolution passed unanimously to pay off all of the county’s debt by Sept. 25. The funds to do that come out of the budget that was passed Monday night.
Huffman wanted the tax rate to be decreased to $2.36, but that didn’t happen.
“I recommended to the finance committee that we drop it, but they shoved it out the window first thing. We should have done that,” Huffman said. “The people of Tipton County have been paying the tax rate on these schools for 40 years. It seemed to me only fair to give some of it back if you no longer have debt on the schools.”
Huffman estimated the education incentive program would have cost about $105,000,
W.T. Bailey, the county’s budget director, said the budget that was passed Monday night will increase by about $300,000 because of the six-percent raise.
Tax rate breakdown
Solid waste/sanitation $.05
Highway/public works $0.10
General purpose school $1.14
Debt service $.05
General capital projects $.05