With the time drawing near for Trousdale County government to put together its planned budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, there will be some tough decisions to be made.
So I found it a little bit curious and frankly, a little bit disturbing last week when the Local Government Services Committee chose to take up the idea of raising pay for county commissioners.
The proposal as presented roughly doubles the monthly pay for commissioners, from $50 to $100 for the monthly meeting, from $20 to $75 for the monthly work session and from $20 to $40 for each committee meeting attended.
By comparison, Smith County pays $25 per committee meeting and $100 per Commission meeting. Wilson County pays $400 per month and Sumner $500 per month.
I get it. Everyone would like to see a bigger paycheck (myself included!). And we’re not talking about a great deal of money. But Trousdale is a small county, without a strong base of businesses that bring in large sales tax dollars like you see in Sumner, Wilson or even Macon County. Property tax pays quite a bit of the bills for county government and we need to be watchful of how those dollars are spent and raised.
And as I said, there will be some hard choices to be made come budget time.
The sheriff’s office is expected to make a strong push for raises for its deputies, as the department has lost a number of experienced officers to surrounding counties in recent months. Granted, we can never match what law enforcement makes in Lebanon or Gallatin, for example, but I can’t think of a good argument against doing something to benefit those who help keep our county safe.
But the county’s Law Enforcement Committee hasn’t met to take up this matter.
Also, raises for other county employees – some of whom make as little as $10 per hour – is also expected to be up for discussion. $10 per hour is, to be frank, disgraceful in my view. That has to be addressed.
But no committee has met to look into that possibility either, as of yet. I imagine it will come up during budget time. Granted, raises can’t be voted in during a budget year. But why couldn’t commissioners have gone ahead and come up with a plan to have ready when preparing the next year’s budget?
Improving fire protection is also an area that needs addressing. Outside a five-mile radius from the downtown fire hall, there effectively is no fire protection at present. That means a lot of the new homes in the western end of Trousdale County – where our growth is strongest – would be in a world of hurt if, God forbid, a fire break out.
But fixing that means building a fire station, or possibly more than one. It means equipment and manpower. That costs money too.
The school system has requested funds for needed improvements at the elementary school and safety renovations to the football field. While an exact price tag is not currently known, early estimates put those numbers at over $2 million.
There are also outstanding debts to consider. The County Administration building is still being paid off. We just spent almost $2 million on a Criminal Justice Center. The Water Department has a new sewer plant that cost millions. Those are just the ones I thought of in the first few seconds as I write this.
Granted, Trousdale County is in excellent financial shape. The county has a fund balance exceeding $3 million and the debt payments are more than manageable.
But there are issues that will soon need addressing. I would have liked to see members of our County Commission focus on those first and save their own pay for later.
Our elected officials do work hard at doing a thankless job and it would be impossible to pay them what the job is actually worth. But with other priorities to deal with in the near future, I just don’t feel this is the right time to effectively double their pay.
Chris Gregory is managing editor of The Hartsville Vidette. Reach him at 615-374-3556 or firstname.lastname@example.org.