Wood County Clerk attends budget talks

PARKERSBURG – Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes discussed his 2014-2015 budget proposal with county commissioners during a special session on Friday.

Rhodes’ budget request for the new year is less due to changes in personnel and adjustments to line items such as retirement. Last year’s budget was $946,079. This year’s request is for $943,737.

The commissioners questioned Rhodes about pay raises given to employees during the past year and about the bill for computer software the county received in the fall.

“It looks like they (clerk’s office employees) all got about $1,000 or more, yet we hear ramblings that they haven’t gotten a raise for years. The money you handed out for pay raises is county money,” Commissioner Steve Gainer said.

“My circumstances in the office allowed me to give pay raises. My employees understand that. In July the county did not appropriate additional funds for pay raises, and they wouldn’t have gotten the raises if I hadn’t had funds available to give them. I gave them from within my existing budget,” Rhodes told commissioners.

Commissioner Blair Couch said some of the salaries in the clerk’s office were “at a higher level of pay than some other offices,” including exceeding salaries paid in private sector jobs.

“We’ve been able to work within our budget to give the pay raises. They are on a three-year phase-in, to make them on the same level. After that time period they are all making the same amount, except the supervisors,” Rhodes said.

The clerk said staffers in his office had specialized knowledge and experience that might exceed requirements in some private sector positions, so it would be difficult to fairly compare.

Couch also questioned Rhodes about a bill for computer software the county received after former clerk Jamie Six retired.

“When Jamie was here, he provided us with the computer software at no charge,” Couch said, asking when Rhodes became aware that Six’s company, Complete Systems Support Inc. would begin to bill the county.

Six, who served as county clerk for 26 years, retired effective July 31 of last year. In the fall, the county received a bill for CSSI”s services, pro-rated, for about $8,000. County officials said they anticipate the annual bill will be around $17,000, less than similar services being provided to other counties of similar size, Rhodes said.

“He (Jamie Six) informed me about the same time that he told your county administrator,” Rhodes said.

“It appears the service that was provided worked very well,” commission President Wayne Dunn said.

“But you were aware at the time you gave the pay raise to your employees that we were going to be billed for this service. I stood by you and said you had the right to do that, the money was in your budget, but come budget time, we could change that,” Couch said.

“Some people were knowledgeable that bill was coming, others were not and it kind of caught us off guard and we were also serving as a a demo site, a test site for CSSI, which was a benefit for CSSI and for the county. It was a symbiotic relationship, now I don’t see that and I have a beef over that, now we’re stuck with this bill,” Couch said, asking Rhodes if he had the funds in his budget to pay for the software services.

“We will be paying less because we do a lot of the maintenance in-house,” Rhodes told commissioners.

“I think you’ve done a good job with your department, we’d like to see everyone be able to get employee salaries up. We did feel your department was higher, but I credit you for being able to do that within your budget. You’ve been creative and solved problems and not required the county commission, through money, to resolve them for you,” Dunn said.

Dunn said the commissioners are still looking at what he termed “iniquities” in some pay scales across all the departments.

“You have been able to reduce the number of employees over the years, while other offices have had to add employees because of increased workload,” Couch said.

“We have about $20 million in the budget and pay raises would have to come out of that. We feel bad we can’t do that, our own employees, in the administrator’s office, maintenance haven’t had pay raises,” Commissioner Steve Gainer said.

In the late 1980s, CSSI was awarded the bid for the computer software. A system for the sheriff’s tax office was installed a couple of years later, Rhodes said.

While Six, an owner of CSSI, was serving as clerk, the county did not pay for the services. After he retired, the county received a bill for the services prorated from the time he left.

The commissioners hope to finalize the proposed 2014-2015 fiscal year budget for review by the state auditor’s office in Charleston by March 24. They are looking at a possible 25 percent increase in health care insurance and a regional jail bill that could put the already tight budget even deeper in the hole.