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County budget approved with 5.5% pay increase

by Jeff Haldiman | January 7, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Cole County employees will see a 5.5 percent cost-of-living salary increase under a nearly $119 million budget for 2022 the County Commission approved Tuesday.

Throughout the drafting of the budget, elected officials and department heads had appealed to the commissioners to do all they could do to increase pay in an effort to retain current employees.

County Auditor Kristen Berhorst had recommended a 4 percent COLA.

The commission also recommended employee evaluations should be performed on all county employees and those could be used to help in raising pay.

The 2022 budget is nearly $13 million more than the $106.2 million 2021 budget. Much of that is due to money the county received from the federal American Rescue Plan for COVID-19 relief.

In 2021, the county received $7.4 million. It is expected to get about that same amount for the second payment of ARP relief this year.

Berhorst projects the county's three half-cent sales taxes (capital improvements, law enforcement and EMS) will collect just more than $22 million. Sales taxes make up the majority of county revenue, nearly 38 percent.

Commissioners agreed with Berhorst's proposed budget when it came to adding staff. They added a full-time person to do work in county parks, an additional dispatcher for the EMS service and made a part-time administrative assistant position in the Public Administrator's Office a full-time position.

Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler was also approved to add a school resource officer at Blair Oaks. He said he was approached by the school district about getting an officer, and the district would pay half of the officer's salary, which would be $54,883. That amount includes benefits.

He also was approved to add a lieutenant's position for professional standards with a salary of $56,000, plus benefits. This person would look at department operations as they relate to employee conduct and professionalism.

As part of the 2022 budget, the commission also approved three memorandum of understanding in an effort to give offices with special revenue funds the ability to hire more people.

An MOU with the recorder of deeds for $38,000 is intended to fund two part-time positions to work on special projects. The money comes from the recorder's fund.

Another MOU with the prosecuting attorney's office is for $102,343 to pay a full-time attorney. The money would be paid out of the prosecutor's delinquent tax fund and administrative handling cost fund.

Another MOU is with the sheriff's department, which would use money from its revolving fund to pay for one full-time employee and half the salary for a second full-time employee, with the county paying the other half. These employees will process concealed carry permits. The total cost is $67,670.

In each case, 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.

The 2022 budget does have $5 million designated for capital projects, but what specific projects that could be spent on has yet to be determined. Capital projects generally refer to improvement work to county- owned facilities.

One building that got a lot of discussion was the old county jail, which is located behind the County Courthouse on Monroe Street. During budget discussions last month, county officials told commissioners the building is rapidly deteriorating, with cracks seen in the foundation and the belief if they don't take some sort of action, there is a real possibility the building could eventually come down on its own.

The 2022 budget also reflects projects that would be funded by half-cent capital improvement sales tax monies. Cole County Public Works Director Eric Landwehr said the remaining funds in the current five-year tax cycle have been earmarked for some projects, while the remaining projects would be funded by revenues from the five-year tax voters approved in April.

Projects using the funds in the current tax cycle would include $75,000 for stormwater improvements on Northport Road and $1.32 million for upgrading Loesch Road from gravel to paved.

Projects to use monies from the new tax cycle include $125,000 for removal of the Hemstreet Road bridge and $1.25 million in stormwater improvements on South Brooks and Lakewood roads.

Also in the 2022 budget is $780,000 for new ambulances for the EMS service. Whether they will purchase two or three has yet to be determined as EMS officials continue to work on a request for proposal for the vehicles.

The final 2022 budget will be available for the public to view today on the county's website,

Print Headline: County budget approved with 5.5% pay increase


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