County trims budget further, avoids employee pay cuts

Published 5:27 pm Thursday, June 18, 2009

Commissioners said later they were not in favor of a pay&bsp; cut for employees, with commissioner Rene´e McDermott saying that would be unfair and would be like giving a tax increase just to county employees.

&dquo;If there is pain it needs to be shared with the entire community, not just government employees,&dquo; McDermott said.

Audience seats were full in the Womack building, with many lining the walls standing, including the general public, local firefighters and many county employees.

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Residents said the economy is hitting everyone hard and this is not the year for a property tax increase. William Day said he has had to lay off employees recently and some of the 16 he has left are having to work fewer hours per week. He said the county should approve a tax decrease for residents this year.

&dquo;People have had to make serious cutbacks,&dquo; Day told commissioners. &dquo;We need to have a decrease in taxes.&dquo;

Vivian Searcy said she has had to cut out insurance on her properties so she could pay her taxes, and she is concerned what people on fixed incomes will do.

Paul Weidman said he thinks the majority of people in Polk County can&squo;t afford a tax increase and including an increase for annual tax base growth rate this year is not realistic given the economy.

Polk County payroll officer Ester Lail said with increases in gasoline and groceries, she can&squo;t afford to lose additional income. She said her husband has had to take on a second job.

&dquo;Everything around us is going up except our salaries,&dquo; said Lail.

Polk County children&squo;s librarian Joy Sharp said she is a single mother and a widow and lives on a little over $300 per week. She told commissioners that a pay cut to employees would set a precedent. She can live without a lot of things at work, she said, but can&squo;t live with a pay cut.

Commissioners said they were touched by the comments and all agreed to be fair across the board. Commissioner Warren Watson said he understood how badly the economy is affecting people because he&squo;s had to lay off 40 percent of his staff this year.

&dquo;You&squo;ve got to do what you&squo;ve got to do to survive right now,&dquo; Watson said. &dquo;I understand. We value our employees more than capital improvements right now.&dquo;

By the end of the night commissioners had found about $50,000 in individual budget line items to cut. The $50,000 will be added to the county&39;s contingency fund for next year at the 52 cent revenue neutral tax rate.

Commissioners were able to decrease the tax rate from 55 cents to 52 cents based partly on a tax collection rate of 98.17 percent. Almost everyone will have to pay their taxes in order for the lower tax rate to produce enough revenue for the budget to work.

The county must approve a budget by June 30. The county&squo;s meeting Monday will begin at 6 p.m. rather than the usual 7 p.m. to accommodate a full agenda.