The Board of Commissioners approved the first of two required rounds of voting that would dissolve the Emergency Services Department and eliminate the ESD Director John McNeil's position as part of ongoing budget cuts on Monday morning.
The BOC voted 2-1, with Chairman Richard Oden voting against, to approve the first reading of an ordinance amendment to dissolve the Emergency Services Department, which would bring a savings of about $130,000. The department was formed last year to house the fire division, E911 dispatch center, and animal control. The divisions would now be reorganized into a Fire and Rescue department with the E911 center, and animal control and community compliance would move to the Parks/Recreation and Maintenance department.
Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt said, "I did vote in favor of the emergency services division and having the department established... But this year, we have run into some very tough times."
"We've known for quite some time there were going to be some budget shortfalls," said Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness. "It's with great sadness that I say to the firefighters and the department that I will be voting to support this measure."
Chairman Richard Oden said, "I believe strongly in this department's design to put in place a strategic plan moving forward... I strongly feel we'll hamper the morale temporarily, put stress upon the system. I think the system is working well."
Oden added, "As legislators we do not have the authority nor the power to go into the administration to single out or call out positions. I don't think it's responsible to do that.
"This is not the job of legislators to run day to day operations. It's the job of the chairman of the board of commissioners, who serves as the chief executive officer."
The board also approved about $1.1 million in budget cuts, not including the salary from ESD director position. The Management Information Services director's position, which has been vacant since April, was originally included as part of the cuts for the year, but was later taken out.
The cuts would reduce the general fund budget to about $53.6 million. The general operations budget was passed at $55.4 million in December, which left a deficit of approximately $2 million that would require a property tax rate increase of about .66 to 1 mils to balance. Earlier this year, the estimate of the amount of tax revenue coming in was lowered, due to dropping property values, projecting a larger budget gap of about $4.5 million.
The board decided to defer the decision on a one-time early out retirement package until more short term and long term cost information could be presented. The incentive would open the option to a handful of county employees of receiving full insurance benefits despite retiring a few years early. The option would not affect pension payments.
The second reading of the ordinance amendment on the Emergency Services Department is scheduled for Tuesday, June 29, 10 a.m. at a called meeting.
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