The Effingham County Board approved a $10,000,000 FY17 budget during a special meeting on Thursday. The final budget was the same one that received preliminary approval earlier in the month. The budget will run a deficit of around $200,000 which the county will pay for using savings.
However, not every board member was in favor of the budget as written. Recently elected John Perry proposed several amendments with the goal of decreasing the overall budget including reducing the county’s contingency fund and the dive/rescue budget, eliminating county board member health insurance, not filling an open position with the County Clerk’s Office, and reducing the hours of the County EMA (Emergency Management Agency) coordinator. Along with that proposal, Perry also suggested that the Effingham County Emergency Operations Center be closed and the position of EMA Coordinator be housed at the Health Department, with additional cross training to assist with health department duties. None of the amendments were approved by the board.
According to Perry, his proposals were ideas from members of the public. “I just thought that the public’s voice ought to be heard and at least voted on,” Perry said. “That’s what we’re here for as the representative of the people,” he continued.
Recently reelected County Board Chairman Jim Niemann objected to Perry’s proposal regarding EMA. “EMA should be a separate department,” Niemann said. “I’m afraid if you put it into another department and make it a part-time job with other assignments two things will occur. It will get lost in the bureaucracy and things that EMA does now won’t get done.” Niemann also suggested that there could be a chain of command issue if the EMA coordinator was under an agency that may be in charge when disaster strikes.
Niemann discusses the county EMA.
Niemann explained that a on property with a $150,000 home, some outbuildings, and 27 acres of land, the owner paid around $3,000 in property taxes in 2015. The county gets around $275 of that, of which $0.64 goes to county EMA. The position currently mandates a 35 hour work week.
Perry maintained that his intention was a change of venue and reduction to save on costs, not elimination of the position. According to him, his suggestion was modeled on Fayette County’s system which works well for them. “There’s a lot that can be looked into,” Perry stated. “I think that there’s some compromise that can be made there and we can make sure that emergency management agency is viable for the long-term.”
Perry discusses county EMA.
Discussion during the meeting became heated with Niemann accusing Perry of being disruptive. He later apologized saying that he “lost his temper.” Perry said he was “trying to get the people’s voice heard.”
Another of Perry’s amendments suggested moving additional funds to the Sheriff’s budget to insure vehicles up to 100,000 miles. Under this plan, patrol vehicles would maintain “bumper to bumper” insurance for around 5 years, with vehicles logging about 20,000 miles per year. Doing so would save money on repairs during the 5-year rotation and help save the county money in the long term. The board also voted down that amendment, but Board Member Rob Arnold said the possibility was worth looking into for the future. Niemann also said it was a “good idea.”