While the Walker County Commission members could not improve the General Fund by improving their own finances, they say they have tried to be efficient and …
While the Walker County Commission members could not improve the General Fund by improving their own finances, they say they have tried to be efficient and save money.
The commission recently told department heads to cut 10 or 5 percent, depending on the department, from their Fiscal 2018 budgets to help with the tough finances in the General Fund. However, the commissioners and their districts are not in the General Fund, meaning they were not under that order. At the same time, some efforts were made to cut expenses in the district spending.
Road and commission district budgets were not required to have the 10 and 5 percent cuts, but Commissioners Keith Davis of District 1 and Ralph Williams of District 3 said they made cuts anyway. Davis, who was heavily involved in the commission’s overall budget process, said he made cuts totalling 12 percent in his gas account.
“That will leave more in my (RRR, or road) account for more road paving,” he said, adding no part-time workers were laid off in his area, District 1.
District commissioners were approached in a group text with the Daily Mountain Eagle to explain what cuts or layoffs they made to their budgets, with Davis later following up by phone.
Williams said, “Our funds in the districts are earmarked for road work only, but we all made cuts which we didn’t have to do. Our funds stay in our districts by law.”
District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt said, “District funds can't be cut. They're earmarked by the state for road work. Cutting district funds (which we can't legally do) would have had no impact on the General Fund. I've worked since Day 1 to make sure my district funds are used as efficiently as possible. As a result of good management, today we get about 30 percent more work done per tax dollar. Unfortunately, my total district tax dollars Montgomery gives us each year are only 10 percent of what is actually needed to keep maintaining roads at the level they have been in the past because of the 75 percent decline in coal tax.”
District 2 Commissioner Jeff Burrough said, “Since I have taken over there has been a complete change in mindset and efficiency. Equipment does not go unserviced as to be the cause of breakdowns. Calls do not go unanswered or followed up on. A lot of changes have taken place including costs saving measures, i.e. gas and diesel expenses, best prices for parts or repairs. We just try the best to make our state money go further. Cuts (made) to my payroll were significant, as I had two longtime employees retire and have only replaced on as seasonal help to date. We have also cut down on temporary cold mix. (We are) now using hot mix patching for longer better results so we don't have to purchase cold mix as often. All seems too little but our residents deserve attention to the roads that they live and travel on. As others stated, just being efficient with our allocated earmarked money to make it better served (last).”
Davis said later by phone that four different accounts are involved for commissioners: Gas, RRR, secondary roads and coal. All of the four accounts are restricted in their own ways. While some money is being switched around, generally in the end the money is being spent on roads or road work.
Secondary road funds can only be spent on secondary roads, he said. Coal is restricted to equipment, gasoline and other items. RRR is essentially repaving, resurfacing and repairing of roads.
“Gas is more flexible account” for other items, and it is used to pay the salaries of the district employees, who help with the roadwork. Money can be pulled from RRR to switch to the gas account.
“You can reimburse gas through RRR when there is a shortage,” he said, noting the aim is to pull less from RRR to supplement gas, so more money can be left for paving.
“By law, we have to keep up with how many hours an employee has to work on a certain road. We’ll sign a letter, for a RRR letter. We’ll put that in a file and when we need money in our gas account, we can take that file, add up those hours and take that money and pull it from RRR to our gas account,” he said.
Davis said he has been trimming payroll back for the past five years. This time, he had two full-time employees who retired and came back part-time. He also trimmed some other areas, which was about 12 percent.
He said his gas account in the last budget was $530,000, and he trimmed about $60,000 to $70,000, which will stay in the RRR account to allow more road work.
Davis said when 4.5 percent was cut from the budgets in 2013, he and all the districts (except for District 2) cut the district gas accounts by 4.5 percent.
He said the District 2 commissioner at the time, Dan Wright, said the funds are earmarked and can’t be cut.
He said Aderholt was making a similar argument they can’t be cut.
“Well, you can and you can’t. It’s just going to add more money in the RRR account. It’s not going to add more money into the General Fund,” Davis said.
Davis said he had more room to cut his gas fund for different reasons. “I put energy-efficient LED lighting in my shop. That’s brought my power bill down,” he said. “I’ve lost guys to attrition who came back part-time. I didn’t replace a couple of guys. I got my crew down to 10, which is now six full-time and four part-time, so that freed up money on the health insurance I was paying on the full-time guys. Basically they went from 40 hours to 29 hours.”
Also, he said going to a four-day work week with 10-hour days helped him reduce cost and increase productivity, considering the trouble to move equipment in and out. He said District 2 has also adopted that schedule.
He said he was not aware of any layoffs among the district crews, noting at one point years ago 30 people worked out of the District 1 shop. “We’re as efficient as we can be, but we are probably at bare bones staff,” he said.
“I run my budget as tight as I possibly can. I check every expense. I check every thing that is spent. The guys know what we’ve got to work with,” Davis added.
He said he feels the county is transitioning more to a part-time work force because health insurance is so expensive. Most of his part-time staff involve employees who has worked at least 25 or 30 years who retired and wanted to come back. “I’ve got experienced guys at half the money. It made perfect sense to me,” he said.
Asked if commissioners are part-time, Davis said he is available 24/7. “We are allowed to work other jobs that allow us to be available 24 hours, seven days a week. I couldn’t teach school and be a county commissioners, because I couldn’t leave school when I needed to. There is an attorney general’s opinion on that. I can sell real estate, because if I have to drop something and run out and do county work, I can. Most all other county commissioners for the past 30 years have had — like (Dual) Tubbs owned a business. Other guys had businesses they operated and run. The chairman is full-time. I don’t say I’m part-time because it is seven days a week and I am available any time. I’m sitting here now at my district shop and I’ve been here all day.” He said he also attends meetings, takes phone calls and has been out with crews.
He said he has helped crews shovel snow and helping with clean up, noting he was out on Christmas Day in 2015 looking at the flooding that happened that holiday. “If they need a flagger, I’ll go out and help the guys out if we’re shorthanded,” he said.