2012-08-29 / News

Commissioners delay decisions on hospital

By Anne Marie Kyzer

County commissioners met last week to discuss their 2013 spending plan but didn’t make any decisions about funding for the hospital.

They received a formal request from the Burke County Hospital Authority for $3.29 million in operating funds for Burke Medical Center and another $2.3 for capital expenditures, like new equipment. But there was little talk of what commissioners intended to do about it.

“This is a very serious situation,” Commission Chairman Wayne Crockett said. “I don’t know that I have the answer…in fact, I know I don’t.”

The answer they’re looking for is how to fund that request when the 2013 proposed budget is already balanced, and every bit of revenue is already allotted to other departments.

While County Administrator Merv Waldrop said the capital request could possibly be covered by SPLOST II, which generated more revenue than expected, providing the full $2.39 million from the general fund would mean either drastically reducing other county services or raising taxes.

Commissioners will likely look for more details about the hospital’s needs before beginning their discussions in earnest.

Meanwhile, they continue to hear from department heads about their funding needs for the coming year, most needing more money.

Jesse Burke, who oversees the road department along with solid waste and vehicle maintenance, hopes the county will fill requests for new paving equipment, a dump truck and new mowers. He said more employees are needed as well for jobs such as running motor graders and flagging traffic in work zones.

Sherri Cochran, Clerk of Superior Court, appealed to commissioners for raises for her staff and to have one of her deputy clerk’s elevated to chief deputy clerk. That promotion would provide a back-up should Cochran be unable to fulfill her duties at any point. She said the salaries in her office are low compared to similar positions and make it hard to retain good employees.

Coroner-elect Susan Salemi presented the most surprising request of the day, asking commissioners to slice the budget for the coroner’s office by more than $13,000, from $49,000 to about $36,000.

“I’ve done some cutting,” she said. “I want to save some money.”

The former deputy coroner said lower salaries alone would save the county money, as would doing away with cell phones for the office.

Last year, Salemi said she made about $18,500 as a deputy coroner being paid on a case-by-case basis. She suggested her salary as coroner be set at $16,000. Two deputy coroners could be hired to help with cases when she is unable, but those occasions would be rare and they would not be paid more than $3,000 per year, she said.

Though Salemi acknowledged that the coroner’s salary has been $12,000 for years, she stressed that she would handle nearly all of the cases and rely very little on deputy coroners.

The next budget work session is scheduled for this afternoon (Wednesday) at 3 p.m.

ANIMAL CONTROL

Once again, commissioners are being asked to invest in animal control for the county.

Old Fella Burke County Animal Rescue presented a proposal for the second straight year to provide all facets of animal control, including handling strays and dangerous dogs. The contract would cost the county $175,000, and the organization would hire one fulltime and two part time employees to operate the shelter and provide services.

“We’re going to offer it one more year and see if this is the year y’all take us up on it,” Old Fella’s Jodi Pope said.

The non-profit organization has been operating in the county on a volunteer basis for the past five years, funded entirely by grants and donations.

The group offered the county a contract last year as well to provide animal control, but commissioners opted against it.

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