The possibility of adding an administrator to oversee the county’s day-to-day operations may fall apart if elected officials don’t find common ground on final details, including where the money would come from to fund the position.
Montgomery County Commissioners created the position and approved the job description in May. All that’s needed now is funding from the county council.
Gary Booth, the council vice president, said the money can be found by reducing the tax rate for the cumulative bridge fund, which is used to cover construction, maintenance and repair costs for county bridges and approaches.
“In my mind, the reason the Cum Bridge was a target is because, for one, it’s easy,” Booth said at Tuesday’s county council meeting. “There’s a tax rate tied to it and every dollar that goes into it can’t go into the general fund.”
The significance behind hiring a county administrator to serve as the head of the county government is that officials view the position as a way to save money and get more done. What county leaders can’t agree on is how to pay for it.
At their meeting last month, the council considered appropriating $50,000 to cover the position through the end of the year, but decided to wait until certain details were addressed first. Booth asked if the commissioners would agree to reduce the cumulative bridge fund rate for next year. Dropping the rate from 7.5 cents this year to 7 cents in 2020 would add roughly $100,000 to the county general fund for the council to work with for salary and benefits expenses.
Commission president Jim Fulwider told council members Tuesday of the concerns the commissioners have over using money that would instead go to help with the county’s deteriorating bridges.
“We’re already pushing things four years out that we know needs to be worked on now, due to the lack of the funds that’s available,” Fulwider said. “I know the seven of you (on the council) and the three (commissioners) have the same goal in mind, and that’s to getting things back to where they need to be. (The commissioners) think that infrastructure, roads and bridges is definitely what we all agree is what needs to be kept up. I’m just a little bit leery of that money going away.”
The council could still authorize an additional appropriation if more money is needed for projects, Booth said. They did that Tuesday when the council gave an additional $400,000 to the highway department for stone, gravel and sand that’s needed already after a treacherous winter.
“I ran (for office) on ‘We need good roads and bridges,’” Booth said. “That’s what government does. So I’m not trying to short the county bridge and road repair money because I think that’s important.”
Booth has made a point, though, to find a “revenue neutral” option for funding through 2020, during a period of time they consider to be a trial run to see if the position works out. Booth also pointed out that reducing the tax rate is doable because the rate set so high right now.
The county’s .075 rate is the third-highest in the state and the highest it’s been set since 2002 when it was .0861. But the commissioners are also trying to make up for lost ground after no rate was set in 2017 or 2018 to help with county budget issues. In 2016 the tax rate was .0285.
What’s next for the position is up in the air. The county ERPS Committee, which reviews employee compensation issues, must meet to calculate a salary recommendation for the council, but that meeting hasn’t happened yet. The council also wants specific wording in parts of the ordinance and job description before funding is approved.