PAXTON — A proposal to raise the pay of three employees of the Ford County Circuit Clerk’s Office prompted an angry reaction Thursday from county board member Debbie Smith, who felt the idea should have been brought to the board during the budgeting process months earlier.
“We worked our buns off to get the budget done (last fall), and now you’re coming to us in January? That’s what (angers me),” Smith told Circuit Clerk Kim Evans, who requested the raises. “You should have gone to bat for your employees back when we were doing the budget, ya know?”
“I was, Debbie,” Evans replied.
“No, you weren’t,” Smith said.
“I take offense to that, Debbie,” Evans responded.
Smith, a Paxton resident, and the other four members of the board’s finance committee reviewed a proposed resolution calling for the raises as a result of a “significantly increased” workload and the continued shortage of one employee in Evans’ office. The raises were to be effective retroactive to the start of this fiscal year on Dec. 1, 2019 — the same date each received a 3 percent cost-of-living increase.
The resolution noted that the employees who were to receive the raises — full-time chief deputy clerk Jordyn Harmon (from $13.03 per hour to $14), full-time deputy clerk Debra Slade (from $11.75 to $13) and part-time deputy clerk Pamela Baillie (from $13.67 to $16) — each had college degrees.
Several board members questioned why the employees’ educational backgrounds were mentioned. They noted that a policy approved by the board a month earlier — allowing department heads to consider qualifications such as advanced degrees, certifications or job-related experience when setting the wages for their non-unionized employees — only applies to newly hired employees, not existing ones. Also, the policy does not go into effect until the start of next fiscal year on Dec. 1, 2020.
Evans made no comment in response.
Meanwhile, Smith asked Evans to explain why different pay raises were proposed for each employee, specifically questioning why Baillie should get at least $2 more than the other two staffers.
Evans explained that the state of Illinois has mandated “a whole bunch more reporting” by circuit clerk’s offices, requiring reports to be constantly updated by her staff.
“We’re having to keep updating and updating and updating the way we do things — it’s changing daily,” Evans said.
“So Jordyn and Debra don’t have to worry about those daily changes?” Smith asked.
“They do,” Evans responded.
Evans then explained that limitations on funding led to the varying proposed raises. While Baillie’s raise would be funded by the circuit clerk’s office’s “dedicated fund,” Evans said, Harmon’s and Slade’s would be funded through the general fund, which she said did not have enough money available for larger raises due to budgetary constraints.
Evans said she spoke with Treasurer Krisha Shoemaker about the proposed raises and from which revenue sources they would be funded, and Shoemaker felt comfortable with the plan.
Even so, the finance committee’s chairman, Chase McCall of Gibson City, suggested that language be added to the resolution to ensure that the raises are funded by their anticipated budget line items. Specifically, McCall asked that language be added that would require Harmon’s and Slade’s raises to be paid using dedicated-fund revenue in the unforeseen event that there is no longer enough money in the general fund’s budget to cover them.
Meanwhile, board member Chuck Aubry of Gibson City suggested language also be added to state specifically where each salary increase is expected to be coming from within the budget.
That led to a broader discussion about whether the board should adopt a new policy requiring that, moving forward, all department heads state in writing what specific funds in the budget would be used to pay for any raises that would be proposed in the middle of a fiscal year.
“It should be on (the resolution up for approval) so that it’s on the record,” Smith said. “Just so everybody’s on the same page.”
The board made plans to discuss further the possibility of drafting such a policy at the finance committee’s February meeting.
McCall told Evans that her proposal for the salary increases would be reconsidered at the February committee meeting, as well.
“Kim, I’m not hearing ‘no.’ That’s not what I’m hearing. I’m hearing that the resolution needs to be cleaned up, that’s all,” McCall said. “I think we just need some solid facts before we move forward, and that’s not only to protect your office but to protect our budget and the general fund.
“So, if you could,” McCall continued, “talk to the chief judge (to confirm the use of dedicated funds will be acceptable to fund Baillie’s pay raise); go back and talk to the treasurer and make sure and mark which dedicated funds you’re going to take (Baillie’s raise) out of; and then (determine) the projected general-fund cost of (the raises for) Debra and Jordyn. And then come back to the finance committee next month and we’ll see if we can move forward.”
Also at the committee meeting:
➜ The committee voted unanimously to advance to the full board for its consideration a resolution authorizing the Ford County Public Health Department to hire a “special projects coordinator” on a temporary basis to provide education, outreach and assistance with the 2020 Census. The full-time position would end on June 30. The position would pay at least $15.50 per hour and would be funded through a census grant. Whoever is hired would be tasked with making sure every person living in the county participates in the census. “Statistics say that for every person not counted in the census, it’s $1,500 less the state gets per person,” Public Health Administrator Lana Sample said. “So the state of Illinois has put a lot of money into each county going out and making sure that every single person is counted.”
➜ The committee voted unanimously to advance to the full board for its consideration a resolution to raise the salaries of the Ford County Emergency Management Agency’s coordinator and assistant coordinator to $6,500 and $3,500, respectively, effective Dec. 1, 2019. McCall had nothing but praise for the work the agency is doing today under EMA Coordinator Terry Whitebird’s leadership: “I just want to say, Terry and his assistant (Kevin Turner), they have been a godsend. There’s so many compliments about what (Whitebird) does. He’s very dedicated.” Added Board Chairman Bob Lindgren of rural Loda: “And he’s doing it because he enjoys it.”
➜ The committee voted unanimously to advance to the full board for its consideration a resolution setting the mileage reimbursement rate at 57 1/2 cents per mile, down from the existing rate of 58 cents. The new rate reflects the standard rate according to the Illinois Department of Revenue.
➜ The committee voted unanimously to advance to the full board for its consideration a resolution to appoint Kayla Golden as a replacement for Laurie Finch as a commissioner on the Ford County Housing Authority board, through Nov. 27, 2023; and to re-appoint Harold Medler as a Housing Authority commissioner through Nov. 27, 2024.
➜ The committee voted unanimously to advance to the full board for its consideration a resolution to appoint Joel Hastings of Loda to a vacant seat on the Ford County Board of Review, with his term to expire June 1, 2020. The re-appointment of Michael Griffin of Paxton to the board of review will be considered by the county board next month. The third and final member of the board of review is Johnathan Powers of Paxton, who was appointed in December.
➜ The committee set a meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, in the small courtroom on the first floor of the courthouse in Paxton to discuss proposed revisions to the budget for this fiscal year.
➜ The committee heard a presentation from Bloomington-based Bellwether LLC, which offered its assistance in developing the county’s budget for next fiscal year for a fee of $12,000. The Piatt County Board is also considering hiring the firm.
➜ The committee heard a presentation from the Illinois Association of County Board Members regarding an employee benefits plan.