Raises discussed as Mobile County Commission unveils budget

The Mobile County Commission provided a first look at its proposed 2016-2017 budget on Thursday, with commissioners discussing raises and bonuses for employees.

The budget was introduced at a commission work session on Thursday, and will be considered at the Commission's next meeting, on Monday. Its projected total is $132.2 million, up from the $129.4 million originally projected for this year. The $132.2 million includes $1.35 million in carryover from the current year.

Highlights of the proposed budget include the remarks: "Fiscal year 2017 revenues are projected to increase slightly, with a revenue totaling $130,882,651. This represents an increase of 2.79 percent, or $3,553,870 over the budget for fiscal year 2016, which was $127,328,781. Property tax revenues were projected to increase 9.73 percent or $2,286,348 based on information provided by the Revenue Commission. Sales taxes are budgeted for an increase of $1,400,000, which is in line with year to date projections ... Budget requests exceeded projected revenue by $6,326,409."

"Major expenditure priorities" in the proposed budget include more personnel for Metro Jail, the Strickland Youth Center, inspection, animal control and the 13th Judicial Police; McGowin Park incentives; additional inmate health costs; debt service requirements; "Increased Transfer to Gas Tax for Operations"; and increased appropriations for education, health and welfare.

Commissioner Connie Hudson asked if the budget included a merit raise for county employees and was told that it does include a 2.5 percent raise, and that an additional $1,000 December bonus is a possibility, though it hasn't been locked in yet.

That led to some general discussion. Commissioner Merceria Ludgood said that what she hears from county workers is that they favor raises over bonuses. She has the impression, she said, that one-time bonuses are quickly forgotten. Hudson said that raises must be sustained, where a bonus is a one-time thing paid for out of carryover funds from the previous year's budget.

Commission President Jerry Carl said he'd like to see a five percent raise for employees. "I know some people's eyes are going to roll," he said. "Mine certainly did," said Ludgood.

Carl went on to say that he's worried about keeping the county's pay competitive, lest it begin losing workers to Baldwin County or deputies to the Mobile Police Department. With Mobile considering a substantial police raise, he said, "we're really going to be in trouble on the deputy side."

He said he'd like to see employees working for their salary, rather than working for their retirement. That led Ludgood to speak up in favor of the county approach toward benefits. Its salaries might not be lavish, she said, but it had a tradition of absorbing cost increases on the benefits side, which was just as good as putting more money in employees' pockets. "We just take the hit," she said. "I will stand up our benefits package against anyone else."

She also said she didn't want to see the county go too far with raises, then have to resort to furloughs or layoffs in the future.

"We can't give more than we've got," said Hudson.

Carl raised a series of questions, with County Administrator John Pafenbach providing most of the answers. A 2.5 percent raise would cost the county about $1.4 million, a 5 percent raise would cost around $2.8 million and a $1,000 bonus would cost roughly $1.8 million. Carl suggested that a five  percent raise might be cheaper than a smaller raise plus a bonus.

"We're going to get there," said Ludgood. She remained unconvinced that the county could sustain a five percent raise this year, but said a trend of gradual growth meant it was a distinct possibility in the future. And it was something she looks forward to, she said.

"I'm going to dance on these tables" when that day comes, Ludgood said, drawing laughter from the audience.

The Mobile County Commission meets at 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 12, in Government Plaza. 

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