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Commissioners respond to budget pleas

County commissioners Tuesday added about $780,000 back onto the proposed 2004-05 budget, including raises for employees and more money for economic development.
During the third session of budget talks, commissioners were poised to finalize a budget to present for public hearing. While dissecting the $91.7 million proposal over the past couple weeks, they heard pleas from department heads, most for raises and additional staff members.
Sheriff Barbara Pickens in her original budget proposal requested a 7.5 percent raise for employees at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, in addition to a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment for all county employees.
As Pickens put it, both were immediately “whacked” from County Manager Stan Kiser’s proposed budget.
Pickens implored the board to reinstate the raises, because, she said, she was losing seasoned staff members to other jurisdictions — including the city of Lincolnton — because they paid better and offered more desirable benefits packages.
Commissioner Carrol Mitchem said that law enforcement and emergency services, second only to education, should be the county’s top priority.
He proposed giving Sheriff’s Office employees — including those in Animal Control, the Communications Center and the jail — the 7.5 percent raise.
Commissioner Larry Craig presented a substitute motion that would give Sheriff’s Office employees the extra 7.5 percent, but would also reinstate the 2.5 percent COLA for other county employees, saying it wouldn’t be fair to justify raises for just one group.
Those additions, Kiser said, would add between $650,000 and $700,000 to the budget. The raises won’t go into effect until the first pay period in October.
Talk then turned to the Lincoln Economic Development Association. Executive Director Barry Matherly requested a budget increase of $13,000 over the last year.
“I think he needs more than that,” Mitchem said, pointing the need for more marketing. “You’ve got to spend money to make money. Since we’re feeling rich today, I make a motion we give him an additional $25,000 in operating expenses.”
The motion passed 3-2, with commissioners Tom Anderson and Craig dissenting.
The Lincolnton-Lincoln County Recreation Department and Health Department will both receive additional staff members if the budget is approved.
Commissioners voted unanimously to add the position of recreation coordinator at the East Lincoln Community Center. The position will cost about $36,800 including salary and fringe benefits.
Craig and Anderson, both of whom recognized the need for the position during a previous meeting, supported its addition.
Craig said during meetings held in the east Lincoln area, he’s continually hit with concerns regarding the center and its limited hours.
The perception of the center is that it’s never open, Anderson said.
“It does give the impression of not being open when it needs to be open,” he said. The new staff member would lead to extended hours at the center.
And out of the Health Department’s request for four new staff positions, commissioners granted two — a medical office assistant and an accounting clerk, adding about $66,306 to the budget. Officials estimated the new positions could help increase revenue by nearly $25,000.
The board also voted to increase funding for the Lincoln County Historical Association by $7,000, which will fund a new staff member to help with the History Museum’s move to the old county jail building and offer increased hours.
Finally, the Tax Department will get about $53,000 this year for new aerial photography. It’s a 4-year project that the county will eventually have to do in order to keep records current, commission Chairman Jerry Cochrane said. The maps are used by a number county departments.
“That’s a day-to-day activity,” said Building and Land Development Director Kelly Atkins of using the maps. “If they’re up to date, it’s very beneficial. If they’re old, they’re worth nothing.”
Commissioners made several trims — they scratched a request from Management Information Systems, reduced the amount the Soil and Water Conservation department can spend on a new vehicle by $10,000 and deleted a $72,000 building expansion for Gaston Skills.
While looking at ways to balance the increased budget, commissioners considered the water fund and sales tax revenues. The tax rate will remain at 62 cents per $100 valuation.
After receiving public comments on the proposed budget June 21, commissioners can vote to adopt it or make more changes. A budget has to be in place by June 31.by Alice Smith

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