The Chaves County commissioners unanimously approved an interim $45 million budget on Wednesday morning that includes several new positions and a cost-of-living adjustment for all county employees for the first time in three years.
The $44,889,112 interim budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year adds seven new full-time positions for the new Çhaves County Detention Center that is under construction, while eliminating the county’s indigent health care position, which has been vacant and is no longer necessary with the state’s expansion of Medicaid.
The county’s personnel roster will increase from its current 248 employees to 254 employees as of July 1, according to the interim budget.
The commissioners are expected to approve a final budget in July. The first of July marks the start of the county’s fiscal year.
More county employees have not been added to the county’s payroll in a decade, said county manager Stanton Riggs.
“This is the first year in 10 years we’re actually going to be adding positions,” Riggs said. “It’s all because of the jail.”
The $15 million jail renovation is expected to be completed next year. The county’s interim budget adds four jail positions in July and three more in January.
Eventually, six more new county employees will be needed to staff the jail, said Commissioner Greg Nibert, who said the county spends more than a third of its annual budget on law enforcement and incarceration.
“That is a significant increase in personnel,” Nibert said. “It’s not just jail construction. It’s the re-occurring expenses resulting from the expansion of that jail.”
Next fiscal year’s budget also includes a 3 percent across-the-board wage increase for all county employees.
County employees have not received cost-of-living increases in three years, Riggs said, when they also received 3 percent cost-of-living raises.
Riggs said the budget includes a 10 percent increase in health insurance costs, not withstanding the president’s repeated pledges that health insurance costs would diminish as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”
“The bulk of that we’ve turned over to employees,” Riggs said of increased health insurance costs. Riggs said this is the third straight year county employees have seen double-digit increases in health insurance costs. He said health insurance costs for county employees have gone up 35 percent in the last three years.
County elected officials taking office next year will receive 15 percent salary increases as a result of a new state law governing the salaries of county elected officials and the commission’s subsequent approval of the raises earlier this year.
Two of the five commissioners, the new sheriff, and the newly elected county assessor will receive the 15 percent raises in January.
The interim budget includes several capital outlays.The road department is allocated $130,000 for a tractor-truck. There is also funding of $150,000 for a trash truck, $115,000 for heating and air conditioning upgrades at the Chaves County Administrative Center, and $160,000 for the sheriff’s office to purchase five patrol vehicles.
The interim budget also includes funding for economic development, but at far less than requested.
The interim budget includes $80,000 for the Economic Development Corp. of Roswell-Chaves County, $40,000 for the Roswell Chamber of Commerce, $5,000 for the Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce, and $20,000 for the Roswell Boys & Girls Clubs.
The economic development funding was approved in halves, with the entities to receive the other halves in January after meeting performance standards set by the county.
The EDC had requested $120,000, the Roswell chamber had requested $110,000, and the Hispano chamber had requested
The budget also includes $50,000 for litigation related to the federal Endangered Species Act.
“We believe we need to fight that as best as we can,” Riggs said.
Riggs said the operational budgets of the county’s various departments were flat-lined in budgeting from last year.
“The personnel side is a little higher because of the insurance,” Riggs said. “We’ve had to pass a lot of that along to our employees.”
The interim budget does not include funding to develop air travel to Phoenix from Roswell. The city’s preliminary budget approved Tuesday includes $25,000 for an air service consultant to help develop air travel to the west.
The interim budget also does not fund a storage building for the clerk’s office, road projects on Hobson and Vineyard roads, or $100,000 to replace windows at the Chaves County Courthouse.
“It’s a very tough budget,” Riggs said. “It’s a tight budget. There’s not a lot of money left over. It’s a competitive budget, a balanced budget.”
Nibert, serving his eighth year as a commissioner, said it was the toughest budget he’s seen as a commissioner. Nibert serves on the commission’s budget committee.
“This is the first of several budget cycles that are going to be very difficult to deal with,” Nibert said. “Of all the years serving on this (budget) committee, this has been by far the most difficult year. Some day we’re going to have to pay the piper because we’ve got to catch up on roads.”
Nibert said tax increases were not an option acceptable to county residents. Commissioner Kyle “Smiley” Wooton said the county has to live within its means.
“Some of these decisions are tough,” Wooton said. “I’ll go on the record now, I’m not going to be part of a tax raising ceremony. By golly, it’s time to live within our means.”
The interim budget has to be submitted to the state Department of Finance and Administration by June 2, pursuant to state law.