La Paz County District 1 Supervisor Dave Plunkett had some questions about items regarding some county employees being hired and promoted at the May 3 Board of Supervisors meeting. What followed was an explanation of how government funding works, and why, even though the general fund has a big shortfall, the county can afford new employees whose salaries are paid through other funds.
One of the statements made was that some positions need to be filled or the county will have to pay other employees overtime, which would prove to be more expensive.
The newly-filled positions were on the consent agenda, and included a 911 dispatcher, an uncertified deputy sheriff, a detention officer, a mechanic for the golf course and a groundskeeper for the golf course. All positions were listed as vacant and budgeted.
The consent agenda consists of items that are routine or “housekeeping” matters and are usually cast as one vote with little or no discussion. Plunkett asked that these items be taken off the agenda and discussed separately.
Plunkett cited the shortfall in the county’s general fund. Auditors said it was $3.4 million at the end of fiscal year 2019-21, and it could be more than $4 million at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.
“The positions may be vacant and budgeted, but have we got the money for them?” Plunkett asked.
Chief Sheriff’s Deputy David Gray said they have to provide a minimal amount of staffing at any given time for dispatchers, and, if they don’t have enough people, they have to have people work overtime.
“The overtime costs will outweigh the new wages,” he said.
District 2 Supervisor Duce Minor agreed.
“With the Sheriff’s Office, if we don’t hire the people, the only other option is overtime,” he said.
Gray said La Paz County Central Dispatch currently has nine dispatchers, and they have five openings.
District 3 Supervisor Holly Irwin said there was a critical need for dispatchers.
“We have an obligation to public safety,” she said.
County Administrator Megan Spielman said the county has enough revenue to cover their payroll. She said these positions were on the consent agenda because she and other county officials concluded they had enough money for them. She added she’s working with county department heads on personnel items.
As for the positions at the Emerald Canyon Golf Course, Spielman explained this is a county enterprise that has its own sources of revenue. Employees at the golf course are paid through these enterprise funds, and their salaries do not affect the general fund.
The detention officer included in the new hires will be paid for through the Jail District funds, and, again, it will have no effect on the general fund.
The Supervisors eventually approved the new hires by a unanimous vote.
The big shortfall is in the county’s general fund. Money for the general fund comes from property taxes, sales taxes, licenses and other fees, some shared revenue from the state, and federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes for property held by the government that cannot be taxed. The general fund pays for many of the county’s operations and salaries.
At the April 19 Supervisors’ meeting where the general fund shortfall was announced, it was also announced the county is doing well on special funds that are for designated purposes, like Highway User Revenue Funds for road and transportation projects. However, these special funds cannot legally be used to cover the shortfall in the general fund.
Spielman has formed a special work group from the county department heads to look at ways to reduce and eliminate the general fund shortfall. They will make their recommendations at work sessions with the Board of Supervisors.