The Logan County budget is apparently all but ready to go before the Quorum Court when it meets next Monday night in Booneville.
Logan County Judge Ray Gack said Sunday he believes the budget will be passed by the court. That doesn’t seem to be the mindset of District 9 Justice of the Peace Gerald Hodgson.
Hodgson said in a letter to the Booneville Democrat that last week’s third and final budget committee meeting, in which nine of the 11 JPs were present, saw a budget proposal approved by a narrow, 5-4 vote.
The proposed budget calls for raises of $2,000 for elected officials and $1,000 for full-time county employees, according to Hodgson.
That comes on the heels of raises of $2,500 for officials and $1,500 for county employees in 2018.
Except for the County Sheriff and County Judge, the 2018 raises increased the salary of elected officials to $41,000 per year. The sheriff and judge positions saw salaries climb to $45,200 per year in 2018.
An even larger raise idea was at least floated at one point last year.
“Somebody put (the raise) up there to $4,000 or $5,000 which was ridiculous,” said Gack.
Gack’s initial budget proposal in 2018 was for a $1,000 across-the-board raise and he said over the weekend he would not be opposed to an equal raise in 2019.
Gack said the idea behind the raise requets is to bring county officials’ pay in line with those of other Class 3 counties and that, as of now, the pay for Logan County officials is the least among the grouping.
Classes, Gack said, are determined by population and Logan County’s 22,000-plus residents puts it in the middle along with counties like neighboring Johnson County.
Hodgson, in his letter, states the money for the 2018 raises, as well as those proposed for 2019, is coming from the typical $800,000 necessary to operate the county jail.
The operations budget is now covered by one of the two half-cent sales taxes voters approved to build and maintain a new county jail, now under construction. Collection of the tax began March 1, 2017.
“A large portion of the excess funds went to last year’s employee raises, which is a permanent expense that will have to be paid from now on from the County General fund,” Hodgson wrote in his letter.
Hodgson cautions using the money currently freed up while the jail is being built can become problematic because expectations are that the amount required to operate the new facility will be more than $800,000 — stating last week he felt it would be more than the tax accumulates each year — and because the raises are permanent expenses going forward.
Gack, who points out the budget has more than $300,000 in unappropriated funds, isn’t as sure.
“Nobody can look into the future and tell what it is going to take. Jails are like roads, they’re a money pit. The more people you have the more it is going to take,” said Gack.
Hodgson’s letter, which is printed on page 4A, also spells out other employee benefits, including 100 percent coverage of medical premiums, and bereavement, sick and vacation policies.
The letter includes an invitation for residents to contact their JP and or attend Monday’s Quorum Court meeting, which will be held in Booneville. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.