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Payroll struggles continue

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County board OKs another $250,000 transfer, roof bid

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Faced with the possibility of not meeting payroll later this month, the Fayette County Board approved last Thursday another transfer of capital improvement funds.
Board Chairman Steve Knebel said that the county had enough funds on hand to meet payroll the next day, but that it would have only about $20,000 left in the general fund after paying employees.
County Treasurer Rose Hoover added, “But we still have other obligations.”
Knebel said that based on those circumstances, when the next payroll date rolls around, April 25, “there is the likelihood that we (won’t have enough funds).”
The board agreed to transfer $250,000 from the capital improvement fund, which was started with about $5.5 million the county received for the sale of its coal rights, bringing the total transferred from that fund to about $2.25 million.
Hoover can use those funds, as needed, to meet payroll and other financial obligations.
Board member Jean Finley made the motion to transfer the money, but said that she did so with some reservations.
“I hope the next time we don’t have to do it – we’re going to run out (of capital improvement funds),” she said.
Prior to the vote, there was a lengthy discussion on the county’s financial status.
Vice Chairman Jeff Beckman said, “We have to pay our people, but it’s very disheartening when they keep coming back for more and more and more.”
Board member Wade Wilhour spoke at length on the issue.
“As I was thinking about this (situation), I can’t blame just one person, I can’t blame the people who work for the county,” he said.
“We’re the leadership of the county, this county board. It has taken us 10 long years to finally start to realize … that a lot of people within the county that obviously don’t like this (capital improvement) money being transferred for payroll.
“It’s easy to say that we aren’t going to transfer any more money for payroll, but how many other ideas have we come up with for doing something with that money,” Wilhour said.
“If we don’t want to see this money transferred for payroll, we are going to need to spend some money on improving our county,” he said.
Wilhour offered one idea for the money.
“I think it would be really neat and really handy to have all of our county records online. People look first online (for information),” he said.
“We did not have a plan in place not to pay (employees with capital improvement funds), and we’d better get our head out of the sand and start making some plans on spending this money.”
Saying that he wanted to speak “truthfully, but respectfully,” Wilhour said that clerical workers “may have joined the union because they want job security.
“If you want job security, don’t stay in the crowd – you’d better stick out. We’ve been brought up to fit in, and I think it’s time that we don’t fit in, that we use the gifts that we have.
“I say that because there are going to have to be cuts,” Wilhour said.
Knebel said, “Right now, are we living within our means? Are we spending as much as what’s coming in, or are we spending more?
“Right now, our revenues are not meeting what we are paying out, so we are overspending.
“This is why we are making plans, immediately and in the future … we have to maintain our properties – that’s what that money is for, it’s necessary.”
As an example, Knebel pointed to the back wall of the large courtroom, where there’s water damage.
“The jail’s pathetic, the roof,” he said, also talking about the condition of the courthouse. (More information on the roof later in the story.)
“That’s what we need that (capital improvement) money to do, upgrade our systems, quit living in the past,” Knebel said.
Beckman said, “Our tax base is dwindling rapidly,” noting that “you don’t have to drive very far” in the county to see the effects of a poor economy in recent years.
“It’s serious, serious business, and it’s got to be addressed at some point,” Beckman said.
Knebel said there is one possible way of increasing the county’s revenues, an option that he hasn’t favored in the past – patrolling Interstates 70 and 57 in the county.
“I’ve always been opposed to it, but I may be open to it,” he said.
“I won’t like it, but I realize when you’re desperate, so to speak, you do desperate things.
“I hate to say it, but we may have to look at it,” Knebel said, adding that he would support the patrolling “if it’s done right.”
Also at the meeting, the board approved the low bid of $662,000 from Grunloh Construction in Effingham for a new roof for the courthouse and jail.
Beckman, chairman of the board’s building and grounds committee, said that 17 contractors received bid information for the project, but only two submitted bids.
The other bid came from Woltman Construction of Effingham, $788,649.
Beckman said that the bid does not include cornice work and gutters, so when those facets of the project are added, it will probably cost the county about $700,000, though the cost could increase should the contractor find problems underneath the existing roof.
The $700,000 estimate is equal to the lone bid that the county received for the project earlier in the year. After receiving that bid, the board agreed to rebid the project.
Beckman said that while he’s not happy with the bids, the board can’t really postpone the project any longer.
“The longer we wait, the more we’re going to spend,” Beckman said.
As far as paying for the project, Beckman said, “You know where that money is coming from (capital improvement fund) – that’s what it’s there for.”
Also at Thursday’s meeting:
• The board approved the resignation of District 1 board representative Loy Staff, who stepped down due to a family health issue.
Knebel said that he will replace Staff on his board committees until a replacement is appointed by the chairman and approved by the board. The board has 60 days to seat a replacement.
• The board approved the renewal of a liquor license for Summer Breeze Wine House in Loogootee.
• The board approved the appointment of Tim Brauer as a trustee for the St. Peter Fire Protection District. Brauer, whose term runs through the first Monday in May 2017, succeeds Craig Opfer.
• The board approved another three-year term for Mike Davis as a trustee for the St. Peter Fire Protection District.
• The board approved the reappointment of Vernon Brazle of Brownstown to the Fayette County Board of Review. His new term runs through May 31, 2016.
• Though it didn’t take a formal vote, the board declined a request to allow female county employees to participate in a free women’s health program offered by the Fayette County Health Department.
Rhonda Andrews, FCHD administrator, said that the department received a grant to offer five classes, each one meeting one time a week for five weeks.
She said the department has openings for sessions from 9-10 a.m. and 3-4 p.m., and asked about county employees being allowed to attend those sessions.
Several board members – including Knebel, Beckman, Wilhour and Glen “Whitey” Daniels – said that while they see it as being a good program, they didn’t feel that there was justification for allowing employees to leave work for the classes.
After hearing comments from other board members, Knebel said, “The general consensus is, we’re all for it, but it would be nice if it was after working hours.”
Andrews said that the FCHD is offering a class from 6-7 p.m., and female county employees could attend that class.