Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor
Friday, 21 December 2012 10:01
After three years of playing Scrooge in order to keep the county budget in line, the Wood County Commissioners were a bit more like Santa with next year's appropriations. They voted Thursday to grant 1.5 percent wage increases and to thaw their freeze on pay step increases.
Though far from extravagant, the county's budget for 2013 reflects more optimism than the last few years.
Step pay increases had been suspended the last three years. Last year, county employees received 1 percent raises. The prior year no raises were granted, and the year before that 1 percent lump sums were given but no raises.
"This reflects one more year of conservative budgeting," said Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar. Meanwhile, those tight budgets have not hurt services provided to county citizens, he said. "I think you are doing really well serving the people of the county."
The county's estimated revenue for next year is $43.7 million. The total general fund appropriations for 2013 were approved at $37,304,773. According to Kalmar, that is the lowest level of general fund appropriations since 2006.
County employee salaries next year will add up to about $19 million. The 1.5 percent raises for nearly 800 employees make up about $279,978 of that amount.
Wood County Commissioner Joel Kuhlman credited county employees for enabling the county to grant raises for next year.
"Really, I think it's the employees and the services you are providing that allow for the raises," Kuhlman said, adding that the workers "really deserve" the pay hike.
He noted that several vacated positions have gone unfilled in an effort to cut costs.
"Other employees have picked up the slack," he said.
But fiscal challenges are not over for the county, the commissioners agreed. While there are promising signs in the local economy with business expansions and continued sales tax increases, those positives are balanced by continued reductions in the state's Local Government Fund and additional health benefit costs.
The budget reflects that balance of pluses and minuses, Kalmar said.
"It's a cautious approach for the commissioners," he said.
As they considered appropriations for next year, the commissioners calculated the impact of raises ranging from 0.5 percent to 2 percent. Commissioner Jim Carter said they debated what the county could afford.
"Our employees really hunkered down" the last few years, Commissioner Tim Brown said. "They helped us get through the recession and continue services. We felt this is a way to say 'thank you.'"