By Fred Woods
Highlighting the regular meeting of the Lee County Commission was the unanimous passage of the Fiscal Year 2015-2016 budget. The overall budget of $40,113,078 represents a 6.8 percent increase over last year’s budget with over a third of the increase involving the use of fund balances and the use of anticipated proceeds of a surplus fixed asset to be used for one-time capital purchases.
The true operational budget, paid for out of current revenues, is about $35.6 million. Revenue resources, primarily taxes, are expected to grow by 3.4 percent, a good increase over recent years according to County Administrator Roger Rendleman. Rendleman cautioned, though, that the county needs to be in the four to five percent range for meaningful sustainability.
A main component of the budget is an investment of $835,580 towards restoring competitiveness in the county pay scale. With the improving local economy several county departments are having trouble attracting qualified applicants while losing some quality employees. The sum permits an across the board pay scale adjustment of five percent. It also covers a six percent increase in retirement costs and an increase of almost eight percent in health insurance costs.
There is no money in the budget for merit pay increases for county employees. In lieu of this, commissioners approved added annual leave awarded in the same manner as merit pay has been authorized. Employees with “meets standards” evaluations will receive one extra leave day, “exceeds standards” evaluations receive two extra days and “consistently exceeds standards” get three extra days of leave.
Appropriations contracts, agreements and contacts for services were unchanged except for:
1.The Family Enrichment Center in Loachapoka and the Salvation Army of Lee County received modest sums for the first time.
The Lee-Russell Council of Governments got a $3,965 increase.
The Horseshoe Bend Regional Library, Soil and Water Conservation and Lee County Red Cross suffered reductions of $3,000, $1,000 and $1,000 respectively.
The larger items in the budget (aside from salaries and related items) continue to be road and bridge related. Roughly $720,000 is allocated to the resurfacing program and $950,000 for the required county match (normally 20 percent) on ATRIP and standard federal resurfacing projects.
Terry White, Opelika Director of Solid Waste and Scott Parker, Opelika City Engineer, addressed the commission regarding an exchange of property that would (1) enable Opelika to “hide” unsightly trash receptacles behind a fence (property behind Alabama Office Supply) and (2) provide additional parking for the county beside the former Johnson Gallery Building, now County Meeting Facility. No action was taken but the commission will discuss the proposal and act at a later date.
In other action the commission:
-approved a retail liquor license for the Goat Rock Package store on Lee Road 379 but took no action on an application for a restaurant retail liquor license for Riverbens (the former Peppermill Grill) on LR 344,
-approved a bid for ceiling demolition at the Lee County Detention Center by Provision Contracting Services of Tuskegee for $139,750,
-approved necessary actions for the Highway Department including (1) resurfacing LR 095 (Stonewall Road) from Hwy. 147 to the Opelika city limits, (2) executing federal aid agreement for bridge replacement on LR 156 (just off Hwy. 280 and just outside Opelika city limits) over Halawakee Creek tributary and (3) renewal of a pavement preservation project with the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) on LR 159 off LR 10 (Sand Hill Road) and
-heard an update from Wendy Swan on Lee County Safety Committee activities. The committee meets quarterly, consists of department heads or their designees and is charged with seeing that the county meet nine safety requirements to participate in the ACCA Liability Self-Insurance Program. The county met all nine for the last year.