Franklin County commissioners recently approved a $29.7 million expense budget for 2016.
The sheriff’s department is getting a big boost to its budget, but at the expense of others.
Commissioners voted to move $650,000 from the county road department budget to the general fund. Most of the money is earmarked for the sheriff’s department, which plans to add 11 full-time positions over the next three years. There also are plans to refine some of its policies and procedures for its reaccreditation with the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs and make some improvements for inmates and to equipment.
And while we’re all for a strong and sufficient law enforcement division in Franklin County, we may now see roads. And at least one other elected official is crying foul, saying employees in his department have not received cost-of-living increases in nearly a decade, while other departments continue to add positions, increasing his staff’s workload.
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Franklin County Clerk Mike Killian said employee morale has suffered and retention of staff is difficult. “I have lost two employees in the last three weeks due to Franklin County not valuing their employees,” he said.
Killian’s request for additional staff was denied by commissioners.
We understand each department head will fight for their best interests. But it is the commissioners’ job to make sure all are being treated fairly and equitably. We know times are lean for many budgets, but continuing to increase workload for some with no recognition that the amount of work has changed is not a sustainable strategy. Employees will get fed up and leave, creating turmoil in workflow.
The county sees some increased dollars coming its way with its revenue budget showing modest increases to sales taxes and property tax income. It is also taking the 1-percent property tax levy amount increase allowed by state law, which brings around $80,000 more to the coffers.
We suggest our lawmakers revisit the idea of raising the 1 percent tax cap on property taxes to allow counties struggling to make ends meet some additional flexibility to adjust to impacts of inflation and growth. Rep. Larry Haler introduced such a bill last year, but then withdrew it. Counties are being asked to do more with less, and the trickle-down impact to department budgets and personnel is punishing.
For their part, county commissioners said transferring the money from roads to the sheriff won’t be felt much by those driving county roads. “Generally, it doesn’t have as much (impact) as you’d think,” said Commissioner Rick Miller.
And it saves the county from dipping into its $2.3 million reserve fund.
For the long-term health of Franklin County, commissioners need to find a way to retain quality staff, maintain roads and fund the sheriff’s department, as well as others.
We’ve already seen how shoddy oversight of departments, a lack of checks and balances and antiquated accounting systems helped the county lose $3 million in an employee embezzlement scandal.
It’s time to take a broad and long-term look at what needs to be done countywide and find a way to fund it. We understand difficult choices need to made, but a good way to mismanage a business is to have inconsistency created by constant staff turnover or to not show quality employees that their work is appreciated with at least a token raise.