Chambers County commissioners discussed possible responses to a letter received from the county’s legislative delegation at a meeting of the Rules, Ways and Means Committee last week.
The letter the commissioners referred to was sent by Sen. Gerald Dial, Rep. Richard Laird and Rep. DuWayne Bridges. It initially offers thanks to the commission for hosting the delegation for a breakfast in February, but it also points out areas of concerns for the legislators.
It states the delegation was “a little taken aback” that the Chambers County commission may advocate a one- to five-cent increase in the county’s gasoline tax. “The people of this state, and particularly Chambers County, cannot afford increased taxes,” the letter said. “Therefore, we as a delegation, want to be clear — we do not support increased taxes while the people experience the difficulties of putting food on the table, paying medical bills or buying gas.”
The letter then asks for five questions to be answered:
1. What has the county done to be a better manager of county funds?
2. When is the jail bond issue paid off?
3. What pay raises have you granted?
4. What consolidations of functions have been accomplished?
5. What are future plans to reduce and consolidate county functions?
At the meeting, the commissioners discussed responses to each question raised by the legislators. First, Commission Chair Debbie Wood noted that at no time did the commission advocate a tax increase. She noted that County Engineer Josh Harvill gave a presentation at the breakfast on a “pay as you go” paving plan similar to the one used by Mobile County, but that possibility would be decided upon by voters of Chambers County and not the commission or legislature.
Wood said the jail debt would be retired in 2017, but an estimated $500,000 in repairs is needed at the jail. Also, after the jail debt is retired, the county will begin payment on principal and interest bonds to provide matching funds for the state’s ATRIP paving projects approved in the county.
In regards to pay raises, County Manager said that the county hasn’t seen an overall pay increase since 2006, and has also required employees to make larger retirement payments and share in the cost of their health insurance premiums.
The county has also reduced the number of maintenance workers from two to one and the staff at the highway department is down from 36 full-time and seven part-time a year ago to 31 full-time and five part-time now.
In reference to county functions, Dendy said the county is looking to close or sell their landfill and has coordinated its information technology system to be more cost-effective.
It was determined that County Attorney Skip McCoy should draft a letter to the delegation outlining the responses to each concern mentioned. Wood also noted that she would like to schedule a face-to-face meeting with the legislators to discuss their concerns in person.
In other business at the meeting, the committee received a proposed three-year contract between the county and Chambers 911 Board from EMA/911 Director Donnie Smith. It was the first time the commissioners had seen the contract so no action was taken, but there was some concern expressed. Smith said the contract to maintain level charges over the next three years, with one stipulation: that if health insurance costs increase dramatically, the county and 911 Board would share the increase once it reached $100,00 per year. The current cost is around $70,000 a year. The Board would absorb the first $30,000 but the county agencies served by them would share the cost above that amount, with respect to their contract percentages in place. The commissioners decided to review the contract further before any action was taken.
The committee also approved a resolution allowing the Highway Department to do blade work on dirt roads in Valley, notably the River View and Langdale boat landings. The city will pay for any materials used in the work, which will take about a day to complete.