Attendance at monthly meetings may become mandatory for more than just the members of the Clay County Council.
Additional appropriation requests proved to be challenging for the Council during its regular session Monday evening. While those requesting additional funds were unaware their presence was desired, Council members agreed their presence would be useful to obtain answers to questions and additional details.
Harry Foster of the County Highway Department requested $15,000, previously cut from the budget when the county was forced to pare down its budget, to cover overtime costs for employees. The reason given for the request was replenishment of the prior budget cut.
Councilman Larry Moss reminded the Council of a previous situation that involved inter-fund transfers for employee pay, explaining he didn't want to encounter a similar problem. "If there's one thing that can be abused in a budget, it's overtime pay, because it's discretionary."
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Rita Rothrock noted it would simplify the Council's deliberations if those requesting funds were required to be present when their requests are reviewed by members. Councilman Mark Dierdorf agreed, noting that some overtime was listed for maintenance, but the Council would not have the opportunity to ask questions during the meeting. Council President Warren Stevenson pointed out the Council had the option of tabling the request to the May meeting. But Councilman Les Harding said that whether or not members could learn more doesn't change the fact the department needs additional funds.
Determining the cause of the rapid dwindling of the overtime funds became the Council's goal, and Auditor Joe Dierdorf said $11,036.76 was used from January through the end of February, when heavy snow and inclement weather plagued the county. Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton also noted that during the heavy rains and subsequent flooding in previous months, the Sheriff's Department made numerous calls to the County Highway Department requesting assistance with road closings and tree removal. Commissioner Charlie Brown, who made a telephone call to Foster during the meeting, explained the additional overtime funds will be necessary for chipping and sealing on county roadways during upcoming warmer months. Harding said that while holding costs down will be crucial to maintaining a positive balance in the fund, handling the effects of severe weather and other projects is necessary.
"We just can't keep up at that pace is all I'm saying," Moss said.
Moss moved to approve the appropriation of $15,000, and Harding seconded the motion. While the Council unanimously approved the decision, Harding requested the County Commissioners advise the County Highway Department to strive to control overtime payment.
"Just because you've got it, you don't have to spend it," he said.
Approximately $26,000 would be required from the County General Fund to pay for the repair of the courthouse elevator, J. Dierdorf said. While $26,000 was encumbered, the total cost was double that figure, but a new elevator would be closer to a cost of $70,000-$80,000.
Previously reduced from another fund, $71,250 was appropriated to the Emergency 911 Fund.
The Council also addressed a request for a $20,000 loan by Brazil Township Trustee Marcia Tozer for the purpose of poor relief. As with appropriations requests, members noted they would prefer Tozer be on hand to answer questions. They expressed concerns regarding how the township's need increased by 300 percent, and how the loan could be repaid if the situation was similar the following year.
Councilman Mike McCullough pointed out to fellow members they could approve the first reading and wait until the May session to approve the second reading, which allows ordinances to pass, and invite Tozer to attend to provide further information.
The money will be taken from the Reassessment Fund, and will be repaid with tax revenue is collected for 2005, J. Dierdorf explained. "That fund can handle it better than a lot of others."
But Councilman John Price told the Council he was concerned at the prospect of a $20,000 loan, a unique request. He questioned the reaction of other townships that may also need fiscal assistance.
"Have we done this before?" he said. "I just don't know how good a precedent that is to set."
While the Council unanimously passed the first reading of the ordinance, they also discussed whether or not the loan would be interest free.