County tries to keep pace with growth

Oktibbeha County Administrator Emily Garrard leads the discussion on the 2018-2019 fiscal year at Thursday’s Board of Supervisors budget hearing. (Photo By Faith Lifer, SDN)

Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

Despite value and fund increases, Oktibbeha County struggles to keep pace with its growth as it prepares for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors convened to discuss the budget for the coming 2018-2019 fiscal year on Thursday. All board members were present.

Oktibbeha County Administrator Emily Garrard announced “good” news, followed by “bad” news, to open the meeting.

The “good” news: the county’s millage value grew $26,250 from last year. The board should see around a $100,000 increase in funds next year.

The “bad” news: most departments requested an increase in budget for the next fiscal year.

Requests for an increase in budget are not all bad, though. They represent Oktibbeha County’s growth. Yet, the board’s concern is realistically meeting those requests.

“I think the biggest challenge here is trying to keep up with the growth,” District 2 Supervisor and President Orlando Trainer said. “Even though the county is still so far behind, we’re not gonna be able to keep up with it,” Trainer added. “We’re just trying to stay as close as we can.”

Certain county buildings serve as a visual reminder of the county’s struggles to keep pace with its growth.

“We’ve got some buildings that we need to look at trying to make some decisions on upgrade,” Trainer said.

One visual reminder is the building for Oktibbeha County’s Department of Human Services.

Although Human Services did not request an increase in funding, they have asked the board for more building security. They have had three break-ins since November, in which vending machines and a 60- inch television were stolen.

Yet, burglars are not the building’s only intruders. According to Trainer, employees of the building have complained of rat problems— and the rats leave evidence of their presence over the weekend.

“We need to look at getting them out of the building,” Trainer said of the Human Services employees.

"We need to replace that building,” Garrard agreed. “If any building needs to be replaced, it’s that building.”

District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard suggested the Oktibbeha County Courthouse Annex needed painting.

“That building is terrible,” Garrard said. “Can we paint it?”

Howard suggested painting the annex over pressure-washing it.

“I would look into painting it,”Howard said.

District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller also requested the county address the lack of upkeep for the building for the Oktibbeha County Youth Court.

“The shrubbery on the building looks really thick over there,” Miller said. “We could cut some of that stuff back.”

“I noticed the other day how thick the shrubs are, and I’m just inviting to keep those down,” Bricklee added.

In tune with the county’s growth, much of departments’ requests involved adding new employees, along with giving raises to or training current ones.

The board approved a request from the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office to replace a part-time prisoner nurse with a transportation officer, costing $27,000.

The board is also prepared for Circuit Court Judge Jim Kitchens to come before its members at the next board meeting to request a $5,000 increase in the salary of its public defenders, increasing their salaries to $42,000 per year.

The last increase in public defender salary was in 2005. The board showed consensus for possible approval.

However, not all requests were met with guarantees of approval. Despite some disagreement, a request from the Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Agency for a new communication manager was denied, for now.

“Pretty much, most of the requests were within reason. We didn’t have anything that was way, way out of kilter that we didn’t think it was reasonable,” Trainer said.

Trainer focused in on the importance of increased funds being reasonable and justifiable. Without asolid and coherent justification laid out to the board, a request for increase is less likely.

“To me, that’s the pivot point,” Trainer said. “Making sure those increases are justifiable.”

The budget hearing began the discussion for budget requests.

However, nothing is yet finalized for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

As the budget hearing came to a close on Thursday, tensions rose over the discussion of county roadwork and increasing the county’s road funds.

The board is concerned with construction workers getting paid for over-time on road construction, without actually working.

“I think they’re riding around doing nothing,” District 1 Supervisor Vice President John Montgomery said. “That’s why we should have a GPS vehicle tracker.”

“We would up productivity, and it would help everybody,” Montgomery added.

Miller gave her verbal approval of the idea.

The budget for road construction has already been spent for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, causing more tension.

Marvell and District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams expressed their frustration the road plans in their districts have not been finished.

“If the budget for the year has been spent, that means it’s getting spent in some districts and some districts not,” Howard said. “I’m not comfortable with four-year road plans getting done in some
districts, and then y’all are stopping,” Howard added.

“That’s not right,” Williams said, agreeing with Howard.

The board did not finish their discussion of road budgets for the county. They will continue the hearing into the board meeting on Monday.

“There’s no way we can say we want to have the best roads in the country and not support it,” Trainer about supporting an increase in the road budget. “I think you’ll find out, when you go to different places,” Trainer
continued. “Those that have better infrastructure, better facilities, better services—you know they have the support behind them.”

Trainer addressed the county’s growth and its relation to budget requests.

“What’s happening is we’ve got a lot of road projects going on. It’s been an active time,” Trainer said. Overall, Trainer thought the meeting went well.

“It’s never easy trying to decide what you want to do,” Trainer said. “You’ve got so much you want to get done, and you want to try to do everything. But when you get back to reality, you can only do so much. You can only do what you got within your authority to do.”