Budget Committee Faces Hot Topic Issues In First Meeting Of New Calendar Year

The Jefferson County Budget Committee met for the first time in the new calendar year on Monday, January 8, 2018 at the Historic Jefferson County Courthouse. Vice Chairman McGraw took the gavel for absentee Budget Committee Chairman Scarlett and presented a lengthy agenda for the committee’s consideration. Following the appearance of citizens, all of whom addressed the current policy on animal intake at the Jefferson County Animal Shelter, the approval of minutes and with no unfinished business the Acting Chair McGraw addressed new business before the Budget Committee.

Issues regarding a recent one time funding increase for the Jefferson County Humane Society and the decision of the Humane Society to halt open surrender at the Animal Shelter were the first order of new business. Commissioner Bales, who sits as Chair of the Animal Control Oversight Board, informed the committee that last week’s ACOB meeting found no resolution and few direct answers to the situation at the Animal Shelter despite repeated questions presented to Humane Society board president Scott Lubas who also serves on the ACOB. Bales stated that the ACOB did not vote on an official recommendation for action but that personally he would favor freezing funding until open surrender is reinstated at the Animal Shelter. Bales also noted that an additional $30,000 in funding that was requested and approved came with the understanding that services would continue until the end of the current fiscal year which is June 30, 2018. President of the Humane Society, which oversees the Animal Shelter, Scott Lubas addressed the Budget Committee. He stated that the shelter has no means of animal population control because there is no one to euthanize animals. Lubas further stated that no animals have been turned away from the shelter despite information to the contrary from the former Community Outreach Director for the Shelter. Pascal Robin, who served as Community Outreach Director for the Humane Society, addressed the Budget Committee and stated that multiple animals had been turned away. Robin presented documentation along with her statement and she also informed the Committee that at least one member of the Humane Society Board is certified in euthanasia. (at the subsequent County Commission meeting it was noted that no dog has been euthanize for space in more than four years).

Budget Committee Member Tim Seals noted his lack of confidence in the forthrightness of Lubas’ statements and offered a motion to freeze $35,000 ( which represents a portion of the regular budgeted donation to the Humane Society from the County Commission because the additional $30,000 in funding was received by the organization in December) until the Humane Society comes back with an acceptable plan to address the ceasing of open surrender at the Animal Shelter. He was 2nd by Committee Member Carmichael and the motion was approved 7-1 with Huffaker, who made an attempt to postpone, voting No.

The Committee approved several budget amendments on both the school and county side of the budget. They also, with a motion from Committee Member Tucker and 2nd from Bales, approved assumptions for the upcoming budget season with the caveat that the employee raise was rounded to the ½ % for ease of computation ( assumptions do not guarantee funding). Also finding favor with the Budget Committee was a request from Solid Waste Director David Gaut to use funds from 116 fund to purchase property in Strawberry Plains that current is leased for a convenience center. The projected cost of the purchase would be $29,000. Committee Member Seals made the motion to approve with a $30,000 cap and was 2nd by Tucker. The motion passed.

Committee Members saw a presentation on the renovation of the Department of Education Building that has been vacant for some time due to the finding of mold and extensive renovations needed to the building. Jefferson County Mayor Palmieri stated that the work did need to be done but countered that a County Complex would be a more fiscally sound use of County funds. The total cost of the renovation is expected to be $1,278,777. Previously the County Commission had earmarked $950,000 for the project leaving an additional $328,777 to be funded. Committee Member Huffaker made the motion to fund with Committee Member Douglas offering a 2nd. The motion passed 6-2 with Tucker and Seals voting No.

Fire Department Funding, a long standing controversial topic during budget season, was one of the final items on the agenda. Acting Chair McGraw asked for ideas and comments from the Committee regarding funding. Committee Member Tucker,who also serves as the County Commission Chair, stated that he and Mayor Palmieri had met with representatives from the municipalities to get their input on the upcoming funding situation. He stated that two paths to funding had been addressed, with the first being a base pay plus per fire call pay and the second being based on population served. Huffaker stated that she is not opposed to the concepts but would like to investigate a lesser amount for first responder calls that are run as well. Tucker suggested that a combination of the two funding avenues could be a possibility. McGraw suggested that a stand alone meeting to address fire department funding might be advantageous. Committee Member Seals made the motion for a stand alone meeting in the form of a work session for the Budget Committee to address fire department funding and he was 2nd by Tucker. The motion found favor with the Budget Committee and will be scheduled at the discretion of Budget Committee Chairman Scarlett.

Source: K. Depew, Editor

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