County vehicles upgraded; employee pay hike proposed

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

The Henry County Board of Commissioners recently took a huge step toward shoring up the county’s equipment needs, and a proposal was unveiled for similar action to benefit county personnel.

At the conclusion of the Feb. 17 regular meeting, during which the board spent about $3.8 million on vehicles and other equipment for various county departments, Chairman Tommy Smith announced his intention to seek a 5-percent pay raise for all county employees in the upcoming budget year, which begins July 1.

“We have spent a good deal of time tonight discussing the need for a well-maintained fleet for our various departments and the need for emergency vehicles,” said Smith. “I would like to turn your attention now to another area that is well overdue for maintenance and repairs. It is our worn-out fleet of employees.”

Smith noted how county employees have weathered several years without pay increases and even with furlough days and increased benefit costs because of tough economic times, and how they have seen their responsibilities increase during that time because of the county’s inability to add staff.

“In spite of these challenges, they have remained dedicated public servants,” said Smith. “Our employees are the most prized assets in Henry County government.”

The chairman maintained that the suggested pay increase can be accomplished without raising property taxes in the current budget.

County manager Jim Walker thanked Smith for his recommendation and asserted that he and his staff would do their best to absorb the costs in the regular budget. County officials are already making preparations for the FY2016 budget, which will be approved in June.

Walker also thanked the commissioners for their “courage and wisdom” in making the necessary budgetary moves for the vehicle acquisitions. The money for the vehicle expenditures was taken mostly from the county’s fund balance, or reserves.

Among the items approved was the purchase of 27 Dodge Chargers for the Henry County Police Department at a cost of $657,366.30, coming a few months after a SPLOST purchase of 15 such vehicles. The most recent purchase was the largest non-SPLOST vehicle transaction in six years, according to officials.

A budget amendment was also approved allocating $582,324 for the police department to acquire equipment for the new vehicles and another $1,476,532 for the Henry County Fire Department to purchase necessary equipment. A separate action approved by the board provided $123,468 for the fire department to buy four F-250 trucks to replace vehicles that have reached the end of their usefulness.

Several big-ticket items were needed for the county DOT, including an excavator for $302,434.40; a powerscreen for dirt screening after road surfacing at $140,000; two dump trucks totalling $223,972; and three long-bed pickup trucks at a total of $83,029.

Five trucks were purchased for Code Enforcement at a cost of $103,850. The board also approved $129,948.60 for six trucks and a livestock trailer.