With the Mobile County Commission set to meet Sept. 16 to discuss the upcoming 2014 budget, four top-ranking elected officials teamed up to suggest more ways to save the county money and then use those savings to wipe out projected $6.1 million deficit and also reward employees.
In a letter to Commissioners Merceria Ludgood, Connie Hudson and Jerry Carl that was delivered Sept. 12, Sheriff Sam Cochran, License Commissioner Kim Hastie, Revenue Commissioner Marilyn Wood and Probate Judge Don Davis outlined seven additional ways the county could save money.
The cuts would go to four specific areas, Cochran hoped.
“First, I would like to see the $5 increase in the daily subsistence allowance to be made permanent,” he said. “It was increased this year to $10, but it is set to go back to $5 at the end of this fiscal year.”
A subsistence allowance was created in the 1980s, following a lawsuit by law enforcement officers. The allowance currently gives employees $5 for every day the person works an eight-hour shift. The money is paid to offset expenses the employee incurs during a workday.
Cochran and the other county officials also want a 2.5 percent merit raise to be given to employees.
“Our employees haven’t had a raise in five or six years except for the partial increase for the day rate,” Cochran said. “We need to find a way to give them a raise and increase that rate to $10 per day.”
The two types of pay increases would benefit different ends of the employee spectrum.
A 2.5 percent raise would be more beneficial for high paying positions because the increase would amount to more than the extra $5 per day. However, lower paying positions would benefit more in the short-term by having an extra $5 per day worked.
Both would be losing out in the long run if they went with the subsistence allowance. The allowance is not reflected when calculating retirement pay.
The last important area to help employees would be to keep the insurance rate at its current amount and keep the insurance benefits at the same quality.
This could be done by converting the county’s insurance program to the Local Government Health Insurance Plan. Not only would the employees’ insurance rates not be increased, but the county would also save $42,000 every week.
Cochran, Hastie, Wood and Davis recommended the following additional cuts to the county budget:
• Review the operations and expenses of the county’s grants department. The county officials said when the department was created, it was promised that it would not be a financial burden on the General Fund.
• Review tax abatements to ensure full compliance with tax abatement agreements. If the group is not compliant, then consider revocation.
• Change the county’s tax abatement policy to state that the entire 6 mills of the ad valorem taxes will not be abated.
• Change the county’s tax abatement policy to state if the recipient does not comply with the terms of the abatement program, then there is a penalty assessed against the recipient. For instance, currently one mill of ad valorem tax means about $949,000 of revenue for the county. If the county capped the abatements to 4 mills and retained 2 mills, then that would result in $1,898,000 of additional revenue to the county every year.
• Review the nutrition contract at Strickland Youth Center. By comparing the center’s contract to the Mobile Metro Jail’s nutrition contract, it suggests a significant savings.
• Implement the “One Spot Sales Tax” collection program by the license commissioner, which would result in $1 million additional revenue for the county every year.