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County commissioners hear final budget requests

By Staff | Feb 23, 2018

Toni Milbourne/Chronicle Prior to the budget presentation by the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency, the department presented Commissioner Jane Tabb with her own helmet as a token of appreciation for Tabb's years of service as Commission liaison. On her right is ESA Deputy Director Ed Hannon.

An intense two days of presentations ended last Friday evening as the director of the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency closed out the budget request interviews for this budget season. Commissioners had heard from departments and other entities seeking a portion of the county budget dollars all day Feb. 12 and throughout the day last Friday.

The final request came from Denise Pouget, director of the county’s Emergency Services Agency, who represented not only her department but the volunteer fire companies as well. Public safety is generally a high priority for elected officials, and funding all avenues of said safety adequately has brought yearly challenges. Fiscal Year 2019 will likely be no exception.

Earlier in the sessions, the commissioners heard from the Sheriff, who came in with a slight savings over last year’s budget. Pete Dougherty asked for no increase; instead, he offered some savings by rearranging positions.

The fire and EMS budgets are seeing slight increases in requests, something Pouget spent time justifying to commissioners.

In last year’s budget, the ESA received an allocation of $2,848,808 according to a chart presented by Michelle Gordon, the county’s finance director. This year, that agency is seeking an increase to $3,103,648, just under 9 percent.

Pouget explained that those extra dollars would be used to implement a career ladder, which will offer incentive for employees to remain in Jefferson County rather than relocating to high-paying neighboring states as well as to Berkeley County. The extra funding would also go toward providing suppression training, to provide a 457 match, to increase peak time staffing hours at Station 4 (Independent Fire Company) and to hire an administrative staffer for the JCESA.

Pouget, who also announced at the Friday meeting that she’ll be leaving her position to take a job with the Metropolitan Airport Authority, said she feels much has been accomplished during her tenure.

In the two-and-a-half year period that she has been director, the county’s Emergency Services Agency has obtained fire prevention unit status with dual service hours offered between paid and volunteer service; has improved records management systems; has conducted a class and compensation study aimed at retention of employees and has placed 27 staff into fire stations to improve service to the county.

Pouget said that the main thing the county must do is retain good people.

On the volunteer fire department side of her presentation, Pouget said the seven companies are working well with the ESA, as well as with one another, to provide the most cost-effective service.

The request from the companies is for an increase from last fiscal year’s allocation of $665,000 to $857,686, according to Gordon’s budget chart. These funds would be split among the seven companies. They’re seeking increased funding because of the continued increase in operating expenses for everything from training to fuel to equipment and utilities.

Added to the public safety realm of this year’s budget requests is an increase in the 911 Center’s request from last year’s $1,977,650 to $2,298,383. This increase would secure six additional positions within that department.

Topping off the budget projects for safety and law enforcement is a projected increase of regional jail fees, which are expected to jump from last year’s $1,320,000 to $1,850,000. Much of that increase is being targeted at the opioid epidemic in the area.

The county commissioners will begin deliberations in earnest this week to determine which requests will be funded and to what extent. With current revenue projections, the governing body is seeing a shortfall of approximately $2.1 million compared to the requests it has received.

The final budget numbers are due to the state by the last week of March. The Commission plans to have a balanced budget before that time to present to the residents of the county in a public hearing session. No specific date has been set for that hearing at this time.