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Hartselle Enquirer

Morgan employees in line for 5 percent pay hike  

By Michael Wetzel  

For the Enquirer  

A revised fiscal 2023 proposed budget would provide Morgan County employees with a 5 percent cost-of-living raise, instead of the 2 percent previously proposed, increasing the county’s annual costs by $450,000. 

“We didn’t know until we got into the budget process if we could do 5 percent,” Long said at a budget hearing last week. 

He said departmental budget requests were lower than expected, allowing for the increase that would take effect Oct. 1 if the County Commission approves the proposed budget, which Long expects to receive a vote Sept. 13. 

“Our employees are the biggest asset we have. Those are the ones who really need the money. By (the department heads) not getting over-anxious and buying things, we’re able to give back to the employees. By giving back, it will help retain their workers,” Long said. 

He said the county is unlikely to incorporate the same increase in the fiscal 2024 budget. 

“Can we do this again next year? Probably not,” he said. “This is the first 5 percent (pay increase) we’ve done since I’ve been here.” 

He said the proposed budget does not increase insurance premiums for employees, although projected insurance costs continue to increase for the county. 

“That is huge,” he said. “I don’t believe you can find another place in the state that hasn’t gone up on insurance in the last 14 years.” 

The revised proposed budget’s bottom line won’t be known until later this week, Long said. On Aug. 9, Long’s preliminary general fund budget was $28.1 million, a $1.2 million increase over the fiscal 2022 budget. 

Revenue Commissioner Amanda Scott said the rising value of property in the county is generating 13% more in property tax, increasing by $10 million to $84.8 million in fiscal 2022. 

Sheriff’s Office 

In fiscal 2022, the County Commission budgeted $13,634,297 for the Sheriff’s Office and jail. The preliminary amount that would be budgeted in fiscal 2023 is $14,297,063. 

Sheriff Ron Puckett sought and would receive under the proposed budget funding for one additional deputy and one investigator, and more money for training and additional equipment. 

He also would receive additional funds for a corrections officer to become a staffing specialist. 

“The corrections officer is already recruiting and visiting schools and going to career fairs,” Puckett said. “He’s helping us recruit and retain corrections officers. We have 13 corrections officer openings right now.” 

He said many of his deputy vacancies are eventually filled by corrections officers. “We want to give them that career ladder.” 

He said his discretionary fund’s balance is $114,000 less in July than it was in July 2021. He said the loss of revenue from pistol permit sales is the major cause for the shortfall. 

In January, a state law will go into effect ending the requirement that Alabamians must obtain a pistol permit to carry a concealed handgun.  

“We still have people buying permits, but instead of buying a three- or five-year permit, they are buying a one-year permit. That has hurt us,” Puckett said. “We’ve had to ask for some help. (The commissioners) thought so, too.” 

The Sheriff’s Office also would receive $105,198 in fiscal 2023 for a radio frequency jail inmate identification system from Guardian RFID of Maple Grove, Minnesota. Puckett said the bracelets will allow jailers to monitor inmates’ movements, adding to safety and efficiency.  

Commissioners tentatively agreed to give $10,000 to the Decatur-Morgan Entrepreneurial Center in its first request for an appropriation. E-Center Executive Director John Joseph gave a 16-minute presentation to the commission at Wednesday’s budget hearing. His center requested $50,000. 

Four agencies would receive increased appropriations. 

Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce would receive $65,000 in fiscal 2023, up from $50,000. The Alabama Cooperative Extension Service would get $55,000, up from $45,000. The Decatur Public Library would get $80,000, $5,000 more than it received last year. The Morgan County Child Advocacy Center would collect $10,000, up from $6,500. 

Twenty agencies were level funded and the nonprofit Hartselle City Center, a group formed to promote downtown Hartselle, had its first-time request for $15,000 rejected. The commission allocated nearly $770,000 in total appropriations.