The Mobile County Commission debated two versions of the 2015 budget Friday morning — the difference being how to deliver county employees their first raise since 2007.
The commission ultimately voted unanimously to approve a $173 million budget with a 59-cent raise for hourly employees, opting not to use the 5-percent across the board increase discussed in previous budget hearings.
After hearing from multiple county employees unhappy with the proposed increase, District 3 Commissioner Jerry Car requested his fellow commissioners delay the passing of the budget for two weeks to “try to find the money” for $1 an hour raise.
“I’ve worked with (County Administrator) John Pafenbach to try and get the $1-an-hour raise, but we had a breakdown in communication,” Carl said. “I’ve submitted list of places we could cut to the commission two or three meetings ago, but I didn’t get feedback on that either.”
Commissioner Merceria Ludgood said she wanted to help the employees, adding that the finance staff had already gone over everything it could trying to find the money for the raise the commission was able to provide.
“I doubt in the very near future we’re ever going to get to a place where a majority of our employees feel like our pay scale is fair,” she said. “We’re government. We can’t create more money and we’re limited in our sources.”
When Commission President Connie Hudson discussed her reason for supporting a 5-percent raise proposal, Lt. Paul Burch of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department shouted from the crowd saying, “It won’t be your problem next election.”
Hudson took the opportunity to point out the Sheriff Department’s discretionary funds, which she said Sheriff Sam Cochran refused to disclose to the commission on multiple occasions.
“The Sheriff is not precluded from using any of the sources of funds that come to his disposal, whether it is pistol permit money or whatever,” Hudson said. “We have no idea what the balance is for those. I know it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s no reason, if the sheriff is unhappy with the amount of money his department is receiving, those can’t be put in that direction.”
During her comments, Hudson brought up the plane the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office purchased using $340,000 of drug forfeiture funds. She also said Cochran’s department was only one of several county departments that didn’t provide accounts of its outside funding when asked by the commission.
“We got it from everybody except the Sheriff’s Department,” she said following the meeting. “We don’t get any reports, and we don’t have any reports on how the money is spent either.”
Despite Hudson’s concern with the sheriff’s additional finances, Lt. Burch said from the crow that he was “concerned not just for his department but for all of the county’s employees.”
“I know y’all can do better than what you do,” he said. “Again, we know the process, and y’all have awakened a sleeping giant.”