Employee pay increases and more personnel are included in the $55.6 million Morgan County budget the County Commission approved this week.
The general fund portion of the budget includes $26,911,673 in revenue and $26,903,213 in expenses.
Eligible full-time county employees will receive a pay-grade increase amounting to about $1.30 an hour plus a 2% cost-of-living increase in the fiscal 2022 budget.
"It's the best budget this county has ever had," said County Commission Chairman Ray Long. "I like it because it's balanced."
The minimum starting pay for the lowest-paid employees was $12.12 an hour and will now be $13.69. Long said starting pay for sheriff's deputies will be $19.06 an hour, up from $17.37 an hour, after Oct. 1.
Part-timers — those working 28 hours per week or less with no benefits — got starting pay bumps from $9.88 an hour to $11.
Long said it’s the case of pay now or pay more later.
“We’re trying to keep our employees,” he said. “When COVID is finally a word in the past, people will run to jobs with Toyota and all of the suppliers because the money is so good. We want them to stay with us. Giving the employees a pat on the back is nice, but it doesn’t pay for groceries.”
District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark said the pay hike for employees was the most important component of the budget.
“The plants on the river are having job fairs now and have signs up saying, ‘Please come to work for us.’ It wasn’t always that way,” he said. “Good employees have a wealth of jobs they can go to, making it harder on us to keep good employees. The cream rises to the top. If they get a better offer they might leave. We want to try to keep the best and brightest we can. This budget is a step in the right direction.”
Additional personnel included two positions for the Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Ron Puckett requested and received an internet technology systems administrator and an extra evidence technician for the investigation division. The estimated salaries for those positions excluding benefits are $44,346 and $30,600. He also will receive funding for a 2022 Chevrolet Tahoe at $59,400 and a maintenance storage building at an approximate cost of $125,000.
Puckett said his department presently has a person working four to 16 hours overtime per pay period and getting called in on weekends to do the necessary IT work, which is not an “effective or efficient” method.
“Fire marshals have warned us that storing and working out of designated utility room in the jail is in violation of the fire code,” Puckett wrote in his request for the storage building to the commission. “The maintenance staff having their own space to work, store tools and supplies should be considered a priority as it is a safety issue. According to the fire marshal, failure to comply could result at some point in a full jail shutdown.”
The maintenance building is expected to be 30-by-120-by-16 feet and should be constructed and operational by next summer.
“In October, we’ll start with getting our specs ready for that, and it should be finished by June or July if materials are available,” Long said.
The largest construction project in fiscal 2022 is a waiting room for up to 150 patrons outside the second floor on the Cotaco Park side of the courthouse. It has an estimated price tag of $2 million, Long said. “We’ll be using (American) Rescue Plan funds for it.”
He said the completion of satellite license and revenue offices in Hartselle and Cotaco also will be completed by the end of the year. The Hartselle office also will house Parks and Recreation and the Commission on Aging.
County Commission appropriations to 25 agencies increased from $880,000 in fiscal 2021 to $928,000 for fiscal 2022.
The Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority saw its appropriation increase from $10,000 to $20,000 and Decatur-Morgan County Tourism’s amount was boosted from $50,000 to $70,000. The Decatur Public Library was given $10,000 more (from $65,000 to $75,000) in fiscal 2022. The Hartselle Chamber of Commerce saw an increase from $12,000 last year to $15,000 this year. The Priceville Chamber of Commerce received $5,000 in its first-time request.
Clark said the four district shops will have about $1 million each to work with in fiscal 2022, up from about $800,000 this year.
“We're glad to get our road and bridge money back into the districts,” he said. “The state gas tax should allow us to catch up on road resurfacing. It’s getting more expensive to do things and get materials. But overall, it’s been a pretty good year financially, even with COVID.”
Long said the county has about $7 million in a reserve fund to handle unforeseen emergencies or a downturn in the economy.
The Tennessee Valley Authority in-lieu-of-tax money for the county is projected to be about $2 million, $300,000 less than in fiscal 2021. TVA representative Scott Fiedler said Alabama governments received $79.3 million from the federal utility agency in fiscal 2021, down from $87.5 million in fiscal 2020. He said the reduction is due to lower power sales in the region.