BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (June 29) — During the Thursday, June 24, meeting of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, members voted to recommend the Weakley County Commission approve the county’s budget for fiscal year 2021-2022, which contains pay raises for county employees, building upgrades, equipment purchases, but no tax increase.
The committee voted to recommend the commission leave the tax levee unchanged. The budget is based on estimated total revenues of $587,193,420, with each cent on the tax rate equaling $55,683 (95 percent of the tax rate). The amount allocated to each governmental fund is as follows:
General Fund: tax rate = $0.6632; tax levee = $3,894,300
Highway Fund: tax rate = $0.1915; tax levee = $1,124,500
General Purpose School Fund: tax rate = $0.6480; tax levee = $3,805,000
Debt Service Fund: tax rate = $0.4700; tax levee = $2,759,800
Total: tax rate = $1.9727; tax levee = $11,583,600
Pay Raises and Employee Adjustments
The Finance, Ways and Means Committee reviewed total revenues and expenditures for all Weakley County departments, and asked department heads to explain any concerns they had with certain items in their respective budgets. After calculating the amount of funds available in the FY 2021-2022 budget, committee members agreed to give county employees a pay increase.
The committee recommends Weakley County departments receive funding to cover a 5.0 percent pay raise for each employee, with department heads determining how to allocate these funds among the members of their staff, based on job performance or other criteria, as they see fit.
Among those receiving a 5.0 percent pay hike are all non-certified School System employees. This includes: secretaries, educational assistants, cafeteria staff, mechanics, and after-school workers.
Certified teachers are recommended to receive a 4.0 percent salary hike. Part of the money required for these pay increases will come from state funds, in accordance with a Department of Education funding formula, and the rest from county revenues. There are 335 locally-funded teaching positions in Weakley County and eight federally-funded teaching slots, for a total of 343. Of this number, approximately 40 teaching positions are paid for out of local tax dollars. The purpose of employing more teachers than required is to get the student/teacher ratio down to a manageable level, and create a better learning environment.
Director of Schools Randy Frazier noted Weakley County teachers are $3,300 below the state average. For this reason, the state mandates teachers’ salaries must increase by $400,000 countywide. He said local teachers’ pay was increased by $600,000 to make it more competitive with other Tennessee school systems.
Non-certified employees will receive a greater percent pay increase, due to having only been given bonuses rather than raises last year.
According to Frazier, bus drivers, who are paid by the day, based on the length of their routes, will receive $71, $74 or $76 per day. This represents a $10 pay hike per category.
In accordance with Emergency 911 Director Christy Fulcher’s recommendation, all 911 employees will receive salary adjustments instead of a 5.0 percent pay increase. She explained she is increasing dispatcher’s pay from $12 to $14 per hour, in an effort to keep her employees from going to higher-paying jobs elsewhere. Fulcher explained Weakley County 911 dispatchers are currently receiving the lowest pay of any neighboring county and they work 12-hour shifts, holidays, nights and weekends.
Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum reported elected officials don’t qualify for the 5.0 percent raise; instead, the Tennessee Legislature has mandated they will receive a 2.0 percent raise.
General Sessions judges will only receive a $0.12 percent cost of living pay adjustment, as recommended by the state.
The committee also approved a request by Weakley County Office on Aging Director Gail Rogers to increase the salaries of in-home workers, which includes nursing and housekeeping employees, from $11 per hour to $12 per hour. Mayor Bynum stated Rogers made the request, due to it becoming more and more difficult to hire and retain employees because the salaries are too low. Mayor Bynum said there is money in the budget to cover the salary increase, and the Northwest Tennessee Development District is billed for expenditures at no cost to local taxpayers. The salary increase goes into effect for the month of June 2021 and continues in FY 2021-2022.
Another adjustment to the budget requested by Mayor Bynum involves increasing the mayor’s office staff from one to two employees. In addition to Khirsty-Rhe Janse Tiffner, who serves as the county’s communications director and as the county mayor’s executive assistant, Bynum argued a second full-time employee is needed to keep up with the workload. The salary for the new employee will be included in the County Mayor’s budget for FY 2021-2022, which was discussed at Tuesday’s Weakley County Commission meeting. However, the commission won’t make a final vote on next year’s budget until the July meeting.
The commission will also be tasked with appointing a new Circuit Court Clerk to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of current Circuit Court Clerk Jenny Killebrew, who stated she desires to spend more time with her family. Killebrew was elected in 2014 at the age of 28, making her one of the youngest Circuit Court Clerks in the state.
American Rescue Plan Funding
According to Mayor Bynum, American Rescue Plan Funding (ARPF) will be disbursed to Weakley County Government in two payments of $3,236,786 each, for a total of $6,473,573.
Bynum stated the first half of the money, $3,236,786.50, has been allocated, but the state comptroller is advising county governments not to spend it until it is determined what the funds can be spent for. He said the federal government would provide guidance on how these funds can be spent. Bynum stated the money must be kept in a separate fund and is not included in the General Fund budget. The remaining $3,236,786.50 will be received in the second half of 2022, for a total of $6,473,573.
Frazier said some of the ARPF money could be spent on infrastructure, which would normally come out of debt service, and will help maintain a healthy fund balance for capital projects. Frazier stated the School Department can use the ARPF money to upgrade HVAC systems, add classrooms, repair roofs, and for other capital projects.
A breakdown of recommended expenditures are as follows:
Broadband Expansion = $6,000,000
In-Take Scanner (Sheriff’s Department) = $175,000
Sheriff’s Department Software Upgrade = $44,600
Fire Department Contribution (divided among five departments) = $40,000
Dolly Parton Reading Railroad = $6,000
Weakley County Prevention Coalition = $2,000
Weakley County Carl Perkins = $2,500
Total Expenditures = $6,270,100
Remaining Balance = $203,473
Capital projects in the Highway Department include $551,046 for bridge construction, $400,000 for highway equipment, and $752,418 for state aid projects, which total $1,703,464.
In the Sheriff’s Department budget, Sheriff Mike Wilson informed the committee a major capital expenditure in his budget involves replacing the roof at the Sheriff’s Department and Jail at $300,000. Sheriff Wilson noted, with the exception of some patching, the building is covered with the original roof, which was installed when it was constructed in 1999.
The budget also includes $140,000 for the purchase of four police vehicles costing $35,000 each.
Sheriff Wilson stated his department is converting to an internet-based computer system using new software from M/M micro jail to replace the current obsolete system that is no longer supported. American Rescue Plan Funding will provide $44,600 for the software upgrade. Sheriff’s Office networking costs $22,750. He said the maintenance agreement with M/M micro jail costs $9,000 per year, compared to the old system, which cost $3,500 annually.
Other maintenance agreements include Sheriff’s office networking = $22,750; Datamaxx system (fingerprint machine = $1,000; Lifecheck system (inmate check) = $3,600; and line charges for the automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS), which stores and processes digital fingerprints (no longer paid by state) = $2,600.
Sheriff Wilson stated he must convert all current mobile and hand-held radios to digital radios and replace the repeater antennas in Greenfield, Palmersville and Martin, which is estimated to cost $110,000. He is also purchasing an Internet scanner for the Weakley County Jail costing $170,000.
Three HVAC units have to be replaced, costing $20,000.
Replacing the cooler and freezer evaporator and condenser will cost $10,000.
The Sheriff’s Department also shows an increase in the cost for uniforms from $20,484 to $32,000, which includes bulletproof vests (must replace every five years).
The Drug Fund is the same as last year, with the exception of $20,000 transferred into contracted services for cameras, which brings total estimated expenditures up to $55,500.
Other capital funding includes a $40,000 federal grant equally divided among the county’s five volunteer fire departments, plus an additional $2,000 for the Tennessee Forestry Department, for a total of $42,000 in revenue for fire prevention.
Circuit Court Clerk Jennifer Killebrew said she is purchasing three new copiers – one for her office, another for the Weakley County Detention Center and a third for the courtroom. Total expenditures amount to $264,968, which is an increase of $15,108.
As of press time, the Finance, Ways and Means Committee was set to review the revised budget Tuesday, June 29, immediately before the Weakley County Commission meeting, in case any adjustments are needed to the budget. Both meetings were held in the Earl Wright County Commission Courtroom in the Weakley County Courthouse.