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Department heads make case for new city personnel
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Four City of Covington department heads and the E911 Call Center Director made the case for their 2017 budget and staffing requests to the city council during the first budget workshop on Tuesday night.

The police department requested $6,786,256; the fire department $5,926,476; Court Services, $714,492; Safety and Risk Management, $247,595; and Emergency 911, $3,369,622. The E911 budget would be funded, in part by revenues from fees and transfers.

Heads of each department were asked to submit their budget requests by the end of February. Personnel requests are due by Feb. 12. The council will review the requests through a series of workshops, including Tuesday’s. The other workshops are scheduled for Monday, May 9 and Tuesday, May 10.

The total estimated revenues for the city are $134,626,101, while the proposed expenditures are $134,090,400. The latter reflects the total of what each department anticipates as their annual costs, including current employees’ salaries and benefits. Additional staff requests are not included in the first draft of the 2017 budget.

“You see we have $517,571 as the surplus,” said City Manager Leigh Anne Knight. “When we do the budget, we never add in new employees. At the end of the day, that is your [the council’s] decision.”

She said salaries for existing employees will increase by $395,000 due to increases ranging from1 to 3 percent. Currently, 21 employees, including 16 from the police department, are “topped out,” or at the top of their pay scale.

Council Member Chris Smith, Post 1 East, questioned a 3-percent increase to the city manager’s salary since she had received an 8 percent raise in November.

“We had several different categories that were not competitive in the marketplace,” Mayor Ronnie Johnston said. “We cleaned that up and put ourselves with competitive range.”

He also said there hadn’t been an increase in the city manager’s salary in the prior two years.

When asked, Assistant Human Resources Director Paul Dailey said the city manager’s 8 percent increase in November brought the salary into line with the average- or low salary paid city managers in similar municipalities.

This year, Human Resources is scheduled to do their semi-annual pay survey, which is taken every two years, to make sure staff is being paid at the right level.

Johnston expressed concern that raises were being given across the board, saying “There is nothing that ties a person’s performance to pay.”

Knight said, according to the employee’s handbook, an unsatisfactory performance review could mean a raise could be withheld, and that it has happened, some within the last year.

Two areas of concern

In introducing the budget, Knight said two of the major areas of concern putting the budget together were staffing and vehicles. Currently, she told the council, the city has a fleet of more than 300 vehicles. An inventory of the vehicles showing where they are, their age and the mileage has been created. Some, with high mileage, will be taken out of service and auctioned off; others may be shifted to different departments.

Departments requesting vehicles include IT, electric, risk management, police, fire department and planning and zoning. The budget also includes the Water and Sewer’s request for a new jet cleaning truck, the Sanitation Department’s request for a roll off truck, and the Street Department’s request for a sweeper to replace the now defunct sweeper.

The auto shop, Knight said, is looking at software that will help them better maintain records on the city’s vehicle fleet. They would maintain the motor pool, which would include all vehicles except those needed by the police and fire departments. “You could go down there and say ‘I need a car,’ and they would hand over a key.”

Department heads will also make their cases for the additional staff they’d like to request. At Tuesday’s workshop, Police Chief Stacey Cotton, Fire Chief Stoney Bowles, Court Services Manager Stephanie Finney, E911 Director Mike Smith and Dailey discussed the need for additional staff.

The department of Safety and Risk Management, which oversees training, employee or equipment accident reports, property and casualty insurance and other safety issues, requested $247,595, an increase of $10,000 over this year’s budget. The increase reflected increases in salaries, phone expenses and retirement contributions.

The proposed budget for Human Resources is $813,368, up $80,000 from the 2015 through 2016 budget. Again, the increase reflects increases in salaries, phone expenses, printing, education and training, supplies and retirement contributions. The projection also included decreases in contracted service and medical insurance

Part of the increase in salaries will be a 6-percent increase in Dailey’s salary when he takes over as Director of Human Resources in the wake of current director Ronnie Cowan’s retirement.

Dailey said the department would be requesting an additional employee,

Adding personnel

According to Knight, there were five viable personnel requests. “At the end of the day, I would say we need all five of them, but I also know we [won’t get that many].” The personnel requested were for the police department, the fire department and court services.

The police department had requested four officers at a cost of $264,087, not including the cost for accompanying police vehicles. The police are also requesting another staff person, to share with Court Services.

The police department’s request for four new vehicles and four new employees was not included in the proposed $6,786,256 departmental budget. Between salary, benefits and vehicle costs, it was estimated each new hire would run $100,000 each. 

Court Services has been requesting an additional staff person for the past few years. This year, said Stephanie Finney, Court Services Director, she had not intended to include a personnel request, but Chief Cotton had offered to split a full-time staff person’s hours with her department.

“Several times we’ve been asked for a deputy court clerk, and that was always a no-go,” Knight said. “Last year, we talked about part-time [and] agreed a part-time might be difficult, and a temp would be impossible.

“They’ve come up with a job that works with police, in Evidence, and with court services,” she said.

Cotton said there were 16,000 pieces of evidence that need to be accounted for and logged. “It’s getting to be too much with requests for Open Records Requests (ORR), superior court and tapes from body cameras,” Cotton said. “Stephanie had been needing help, so ... I thought it would be a good way to justify asking for help.”

Council Member Kenneth Morgan, Post 2 West asked if a part-time person in court services would be enough. Finney said, “I would love to have a full-time person. If it was 20-hours a week, I can keep them busy.”

“It would be a very unique person to fill both those roles,” Dailey said.

Johnston said it was obvious the shared employee wasn’t a solution at all, since court services needed a full-time person. When asked if there was room for an additional employee, Finney said there wasn’t. Both Johnston and Smith felt adding a full-time employee would not streamline work if there wasn’t space for them to work.

The cost for a full-time employee, shared between the police department and court services would be $58,000 for salary and benefits.

The fire department has requested a department adjutant at a cost of $85,000 a year in salary and benefits. The position would replace the accreditation staff person the fire department lost when employees were promoted.

“We present these as viable options for you to decide which you want to move forward with,” Knight told the council.

Addressing the council, E911’s director, Smith, said the 911 center was growing out of its offices at the old Cousins Middle School facility. While requests for new facilities weren’t in this year’s budget, he did want to warn the council that it would be coming in the near future.

Since the E911 Center serves Newton County, Covington, Porterdale and Oxford, the cost of any new construction would not be borne by Covington alone. There were suggestions that it would be something that might be funded by Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) monies.

Knight said it would be something to investigate.

Remaining departments will meet with the council as scheduled.