Council members made approximately $28,500 in budget cuts during the first day of the Clay County Council's 2008 budget hearings, well short of the $1 million in budget cuts necessary.
"At least it's a start," Council President Mike McCullough said about the first of three scheduled days of the budget hearings.
Budgets reviewed by the council on Monday included county offices of the Department of Family and Children's Service, Surveyor's Office, Coroner's Office, Veteran's Office, Township Trustees and Assessor's Office, Extension Office, Clerk's Office, Auditor's Office, Redevelopment Commission, Election Office, Sheriff's Department, Justice Center, Emergency 911, Corrections, Emergency Management, Brazil Airport, Prosecutor's Office and the Division of Child Support.
The council wanted to make as many cuts in each department's line item expenses, like supplies, before tackling salary increases on Thursday.
"We've done what we could in the past to support our county employees," Rita Rothrock said about the need for drastic cuts this year. "We will do our best this year too."
Several departments requested salary increases and/or the creation of new positions with their budget wish lists.
Council members believe all county employees need to be compensated for their excellent work, but they agree that some departments have special circumstances to consider. The recent drain of qualified and experienced deputies at the Clay County Sheriff's Department is an issue that has to be dealt with.
During his budget presentation to the council, Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton requested four new deputies be hired to allow the department a more proactive approach to local crime and raises for existing deputies. He pointed out the large salary discrepancies among local and state officers, including that one local town marshal is paid more than a sheriff's deputy.
When asked which he would pick if given a choice between the two, Heaton said, "I've got to fight for both."
The council members don't want any county department or employee to feel slighted, but they face a problem: Does everyone receive the same set dollar amount or percentage of increase in order to be fair, or should one department be compensated more than another?
Either way, both can be a costly to the budgeting process and for employee morale.
Council Vice President Larry Moss believes Clay County residents deserve qualified law enforcement officers "to protect and serve."
"I'd love to give raises to everyone, but we just can't," Moss said about the possibility of giving slightly higher raises to law enforcement officers than to other county employees. "Maybe if we paid the deputies more, we wouldn't have such a high turnover rate. These guys do a job that not many people I know of would want to do. There are times when you need to do what is right and just bite the bullet."
The budget hearings will continue today and Thursday, starting at 9 a.m., in the Commissioners' courtroom of the Clay County Courthouse.