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Wages, roads hiked in county budget proposal

News editor

Gravel roads, ambulance volunteers, hourly employees, and elected officials all will see more money in January if proposals made Friday by county commissioners hold through the 2016 budget process.

Commissioner Randy Dallke initially proposed a one mill increase to be used for gravel, but after discussion, commissioners settled on two mills.

Two mills would raise the property tax bill on a $100,000 house by $23.

“I’ve got to be in favor of extra rock, and not being 2-inch rock,” Dallke said. “These people are traveling on this. We need to be specific on this. One mill, two mills, I want rock on the roads.”

Budget consultant Scot Loyd suggested as an alternative commissioners could consider using some of the money socked away for building projects.

“With $3 million setting in there, I think that’s something you can utilize,” Loyd said.

Buying gravel when the price is low and stockpiling it would be a better return on investment than letting the money sit idle, he said.

Commissioners elected to stay with two mills in the road and bridge fund earmarked for gravel.

A proposal to add three full-time employees to the road and bridge department met with some resistance.

“Let’s put that in there to see what that is, but folks, I’m in no mood to have three more people sitting out here in winter when it’s freezing cold and snow and can’t do anything,” Dallke said.

Commission Chairman Dan Holub agreed.

“That’s where I’m at,” he said.

Commissioner Lori Lalouette pushed for the full-time spots.

“I’m going back to the full time because that’s what I heard Randy ask for, and I don’t want to try to make a decision when I don’t know his department,” she said.

Holub was unconvinced.

“I don’t disbelieve Randy when he says he needs three full-time guys,” he said. “I could use a Ferrari, too, but I’m driving a Dodge.”

Three part-time positions were factored into the budget.

Multiple scenarios for wage increases were considered, including one that would have increased annual salaries for most elected positions by $10,000.

A survey of elected officials’ salaries in other counties found Marion county salaries were at least $12,000 less than average for those positions, which include the clerk, treasurer, register of deeds, attorney, and sheriff, and not commissioners.

“$10,000 is an $800-a-month raise,” Dallke said.

Lalouette expressed concern about the size of the proposed hike.

“I agree they need to go up, but I don’t know if we can afford that much,” Lalouette said.

Holub said he wanted to be “fair” to elected officials, and pointed out $10,000 would not bring them up to averages.

Commissioners approved a proposal by Dallke to consider $7,500 raises for elected officials and a two-percent raise for other employees. Lalouette said the two-percent raise should be a total amount, but that a merit system should be used to award individual raises higher or lower than that percentage.

Commissioners also asked Loyd to figure into the budget a 50-cent-per-hour raise for on-call hours for ambulance volunteers. The current rate is $2 an hour.

“I don’t know whether 50 cents makes them stay or go, or if it’s just a nice gesture,” Dallke said. “I value those people pretty high and don’t want to lose anybody, period.”

Holub said the increase would be worth it if it helps to preserve a volunteer-based service.

“If we go full-time, we’re not going to be talking 50-cent raises,” he said. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

No final decisions were made.

Last modified Aug. 6, 2015

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