As expected, the Cole County Commission approved the 2017 county budget following a public hearing Tuesday where no one spoke for or against it.
The total budget is $78 million, up from $75 million in 2016.
A 1 percent cost of living allowance (COLA) for employees with a merit pool that is 2 percent of total salaries. The pool is a reserve account to give merit raises in each county department. The 2016 budget included a 2 percent COLA increase and a 2 percent merit pool. The county will continue to pay for health and dental coverage for employees.
New employees in the sheriff's department. This includes a training officer due to new laws requiring more training for department employees. Sheriff John Wheeler said this person would also be vital to recruiting and retention in the department. With salary and benefits combined, the total cost to add the training officer would be $54,926. In June, the commission approved adding four additional employees to the sheriff's department, which are in the 2017 budget, after spiking a similar request in December 2015. The department hired three jailers in the county jail and one detective in the patrol division. The cost for the detective was $48,931, while each jailer cost $42,131. The money for the positions comes out of the law enforcement contingency fund. Adding in benefits, the total cost is $224,856.
New employees for the ambulance service. In September, the commission agreed to add five new employees: a field supervisor during daytime hours, two dispatchers, a paramedic and an EMT. Along with giving $2 more an hour for two nighttime supervisors, the total cost, including benefits, is $281,263.
Raising starting salaries for maintenance employees at county facilities, approved after losing seven full-time employees during the past year. The starting salary was moved to $12.25 an hour, up from $10.66 an hour. That adjustment will cost $21,400.
Capital improvements for the sheriff's department with $240,000 for vehicles. This includes six SUVs, two of which would be brand new. There are also funds to retire one of the department's K-9 dogs. Wheeler said the department has had two dogs for the past year, which has been a benefit because of an increase in drug cases. The cost would be $15,000 to get a new dog.
$1.5 million for a new county health department. The commission agreed to purchase the Community Health Center property at 3400 W. Truman Blvd. as the new home for the county health department. The county will fund the property purchase out of its reserves. The agreement states the sale is contingent on the seller purchasing a new facility and completing any renovations necessary to the seller's new location by July 1, 2018. Community Health Center plans to purchase the Frontier Building at 1511 Christy Drive from Kolb Properties in a deal that will be finalized in February.
Three memorandums of understanding (MOU) in an effort to give offices with special revenue funds the ability to hire more people.
One of those offices was the sheriff's department, which would use money from its revolving fund to pay for one full-time employee and one part-time employee to process concealed carry permits, at a cost of $64,000.
Another MOU would be with the Recorder of Deeds Office to fund one part-time employee to help record documents and help when full-time staff members are on vacation. The money would come out of the recorder's fund and would cost $14.61 an hour, up to 1,000 hours and not to exceed $15,000.
The final MOU would be with the Prosecuting Attorney's Office for a full-time assistant prosecutor and a part-time investigator. The $92,000 for these positions would be paid out of the prosecutor's delinquent tax fund and administrative handling cost fund.
In all three cases, if money from these funds would no longer be available or if a position in these offices becomes vacant or is no longer needed, the agreement becomes null and void and a renegotiation would be required.
Commissioners pointed out no supplemental fund money would be used to fund these MOUs. These funds were created by the Legislature with statutory authority for some county officeholders to spend as they see fit within expenditure guidelines set out in the statutes.
Other capital improvement sales tax projects approved include sidewalk repair and railing repair in front of courthouse from Monroe and High streets at a cost of $50,000. Also approved was $7,700 to purchase batteries for the 14 outdoor warning sirens the county maintains. New sirens were erected in 2012, and the batteries that help them run have a life span of four to five years.
The budget will be available to view on the county's website, colecounty.org