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County Council examines BOE, sheriff budgets

12/5/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

DOWNTOWN AKRON — A Summit County Council committee moved forward on the 2014 operating budget, despite a difference of opinion on the annual appropriation for the Board of Elections (BOE).

The Finance Committee recommended Council adopt the budget for all offices with the exception of the three levy-funded agencies at its next meeting. But by amending the resolution, the committee kept out a request for 3 percent raises for BOE employees.

Joe Masich, BOE director, said the four-person board voted and approved the raises for full- and part-time staff.

But Brian Nelsen, director of Finance and Budget, said the board simply voted to include the raises in its budget. The budget that was recommended by the Finance Committee this week included no money for a raise this year, as employees received a 1.5 percent raise last year, Nelsen said.

Nelsen added that if the BOE board does decide to keep the 3 percent raise, it would have to stay within its existing salary budget for the year.

Councilman Nick Kostandaras said it’s very hard to approve a 3 percent pay raise for some employees when other departments are struggling to maintain their current staffs.

“What kind of message are we sending if we agree to give you a 3 percent raise?” he asked Masich.

Masich replied that the employees have gone without raises for “five or six years” before getting the 1.5 percent raises and that he and other department heads are “fighting for their employees like everyone else is.”

The difference between what the county is offering the BOE and what it wants is $700,000. Masich said the funding is needed due to the expectation that there will be a Special Election next year, and that the General Election will probably require a two-page ballot and additional staff to handle absentee and early voting due to the governor’s race.

The committee’s recommendation of the budget came after Council conducted the final budget hearings of the year. Among the offices that presented was the Sheriff’s Office, whose representatives said that the office is down 100 employees from 10 years ago.

“We still have a greater need than this budget will allow for safety sake,” said Sheriff Steve Barry. “We’ve cut everything we could cut … but we need more bodies.”

Barry said the office couldn’t hire because it doesn’t have the money. Also an issue is the amount of retirement payouts it has had to put forward to meet contract obligations to pay for unused sick and vacation days for retiring staff members.

Pam Murray, of the Sheriff’s Office, said the department will be down seven employees in 2014 compared to this year. She added deputies are now in negotiations, as their contract expires Dec. 31, so raises for next year are uncertain.

“There will be a problem if there are raises,” she said. “We may have to lay people off.”

The office’s Bill Holland said the problem of being short staffed is a “vicious cycle.”

“We’re unable to replace employees, so we have to use more overtime,” he said. “Traditionally we’ve had 4,000 to 5,000 of overtime hours a year at the jail, but now we’re at 11,000 for the year. We’ll reach 12,000 by the end of the year.”

Barry said he has been talking about the issues with County Executive Russ Pry, his chief of staff Jason Dodson and Nelsen.

“We’re all looking for any resolution,” he said.

In other business, the Public Works Committee recommended Council adopt a resolution authorizing a temporary easement to the city of Green for a parcel on Lauby Road. Mike Weant, of the Department of Environmental Services, said there is a pump station at the site, the intersection of Lauby and Greensburg roads, which is slated for construction of a roundabout.

The committee also recommended adoption of a resolution allowing the county to apply for Federal Surface Transportation Program funds through the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study. Among the projects on the list of 22 that could receive funding are a $9 million safety upgrade for Canton Road and the $10 million Phase IV improvement project on South Main Street, according to Heidi Swindell, of the Engineer’s Office.

Due to the swearing in of Kostandaras as president of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio on Dec. 9, Council will meet a day later than usual for its next meeting, Dec. 10, at 4:30 p.m. in Council Chambers on the seventh floor of the Ohio Building, 175 S. Main St. It will be the final meeting of the year.

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