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October 17, 2013

Floyd County hopes to avoid layoffs

Passing higher-than-expected budget may give time to solve issues

NEW ALBANY — Faced with a room full of jeering county employees afraid of losing their jobs, the Floyd County Council came up with a tentative plan Thursday night for the county’s 2014 budget to stave off staff cuts.

Council president John Schellenberger said at the meeting that next week they’ll look at passing a $12.3 million general fund budget to be sent to the Department of Local Government Finance — $3.6 million more than the estimated funds they’ll actually receive — and give themselves about four months to figure out a way to make up the difference.

But before that idea came to the table, county employees voiced their frustration with decisions they thought led to hemorrhaging county funds.

TAKING A STAND

Cheryl Mills, second deputy assessor, said among those expenditures was the decision to buy the Pineview Government Center from the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. for $1.5 million. It’s where Thursday’s meeting was held.

She said that along with other costs, the brunt of the bill shouldn’t be paid by employees.

“You all have bitten off more than you chew, but the bottom line is this,” Mills said. “It’s not our responsibility to bail you out as the employees of the county.”

Jim Wathen, At-large councilman, said the county hired 50 employees between 2010 and 2012, which also added to rising expenses. But Elizabeth Brewer, a nurse at the Floyd County jail, said wherever they were hired, they didn’t go to work in the overcrowded corrections facility.

She said if the council went through with 30 percent budget cuts across every department — as suggested by Vice-President Dana Fendley — it could make working in the jail dangerous.

She said she works the jail with one other nurse as cell blocks are staffed with two corrections officers, responsible for about 60 inmates. She said she’s afraid employee cuts could affect the safety of her and her colleagues.

“If you cut officers, it might be me that doesn’t go home that day,” Brewer said. “It might be my fellow nurse that doesn’t go home that day. We didn’t overspend, we didn’t buy the buildings, we didn’t make the decisions that you guys as a council made, but we’ll pay for those mistakes.”

Trish Byrd, county assessor, said morale in county offices has been on the decline for a long time. She said her employees take on a lot of extra work, haven’t seen a raise in years, took a big hit with increased insurance premiums, and seeing the council buy a new building “leaves a bad taste in their mouths.”

Wathen said he understands the concerns voiced by the employees and wants to do everything he can to preserve their jobs.

“We know every single person out there is an asset to Floyd County,” Wathen said. “We certainly are between a rock and a hard place. We know the complaints are out there because honestly, if I was in your shoes, I’d be complaining, too. You all have been treated very bad for the last 11 years as employees.”

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