Kent County's FY 2015 budget could include pay raises for county employees

Levy Court commissioners reviewed Kent County’s proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget during Tuesday night’s business meeting, learning there would be no property tax increase next year and adding a small salary increase for county workers.

The panel instructed Finance Director Susan Durham to build a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment into the $23.87 million general fund budget as well as a 1 percent allowance for merit-based step increases. Durham’s original budget proposal did not include any pay increases for the upcoming fiscal year.

In bringing forward the idea of a pay raise, commissioners held lengthy discussion on the amount of the raise, at one time mentioning a combined figure almost twice as much, but ultimately settling on the smaller numbers.

Commissioners were told a step increase would add another $138,400 to general fund expenses and that a COLA would boost general fund expenditures by an estimated $175,000. Those increases would require commensurate reductions elsewhere in the spending plan.

If approved, the raise would be only the second pay increase for county employees since FY 2008.

“My feeling is that we should at least strive to match the cost of living,” noted Commissioner At-Large Terry Pepper.

Second District Commissioner Brad Eaby said county workers should be properly compensated for their work.

“I don’t think it’s a large stretch to keep the employee’s paycheck [in step] with inflation,” he said.

Third District Commissioner Allan Angel said Levy Court’s employees should be put “back on track” when it comes to their paychecks, but added county residents have been telling him they’d like to see some effort at reducing how much they pay into county coffers, particularly seniors because they are on limited incomes.

“People have been saying they want to see something back,” Angel said.

Fourth District Commissioner Eric Buckson concurred with the combined 2.5 percent raises, saying that given the current economy a greater increase would send the wrong message to county taxpayers.

“Levy Court has wisely focused on controlling its budget and adding $400,000 in annual spending must not be taken lightly,” he said afterward. “In the end, I supported a compromise in the pay increase because I do believe we have an outstanding workforce.”

Commissioners were told county retirees also would receive a 1 percent COLA increase in FY 2015, which will come from the county’s already-established pension fund.

In noting there would be no property tax increase this year, Durham said estimated FY 2015 income from property taxes would equal $9.8 million.

The budget includes a 2 percent increase to cover health insurance costs and a 14 percent hike to address workers compensation insurance. The county’s contribution to its pension funds is expected to go up by $73,000.

The capital budget includes money set aside to build up accounts for eventual replacement of IT equipment and software, construction of ball field restrooms and storage facilities and a flag pole at Big Oak Park, replacement of park maintenance equipment, upgrades and replacement of emergency medical equipment and the purchase of a new vehicle for the Kent County sheriff.

Half of the funding for that vehicle would come from fees collected by the sheriff’s office.

Health insurance premiums paid by county employees would remain the same as in FY 2014, Durham said. Payments for Medigap coverage, which supplements Medicare for retirees over 65, would go up slightly.

Durham also budgeted $900,000 for dog control, as the county’s contract for those services with the First State Animal Center and SPCA expires on June 30.