By MATT KOESTERS
Could there finally be raises for Clark County highway department employees in 2014?
It’s possible, says county commissioners President Jack Coffman, who requested the Clark County Council approve a transfer of funds within the highway department’s budget to pay off leases on three pricey pieces of equipment.
The county council approved the transfer request on Tuesday, which clears up a total of $179,440 to pay off the leases on a 2012 Freightliner, a Kubota loader and a Kubota tractor. The funds had been earmarked to pay for the county’s worker’s compensation and general liability insurance policies, but those policies were paid off using money from the county’s cumulative capital fund at a county council meeting two months ago.
“We saw an opportunity by transferring these funds into the equipment account to go ahead and be able to pay off three large pieces of equipment that were on lease agreements,” Coffman said. “This way, that frees up money in our next year [budget] that we won’t have to be paying on that equipment. Our goal is to try and be as much debt-free as possible in our highway department on equipment.”
The vote wasn’t unanimous. Council President Barbara Hollis voted in opposition to the motion, pointing out that highway money comes from gasoline taxes, while cumulative capital money comes from property taxes.
During his presentation, Coffman brought up the possibility of raises for highway employees next year, which would be the first raise received by employees in that department since 2008.
“I feel that’s a little optimistic,” Hollis said. “If property tax money is being used for the highway department to allow them to have enough money to give raises, that’s not fair to those people that are paid by property taxes.”
Coffman couldn’t say when the leases were due to expire, but said that the daily interest on the leases was approaching $80 per day.
“It gives us more operating money to service our roads better,” Coffman said.
MAJOR NEEDS IN CORONER’S DEPARTMENT
An increase in the population of elderly citizens and Clark County’s burgeoning heroin epidemic have put a major strain on the county coroner’s office, Coroner Terry Conway said.
“Heroin is killing Clark County,” Conway said. “We’ve had a significant increase in overdoses this year, compared to the years I’ve researched in the past.
Conway says cases investigated by the coroner’s office have increased by 88.5 percent over this time last year. He appeared before the council to ask for additional funds to pay for autopsies, and said that there are eight autopsies that need to be paid for outstanding currently.
The coroner’s office currently pays $1,350 per autopsy and $255 per toxicology report.
“If the county keeps going like this, we’ll need a full-time coroner,” Conway said.
The council approved an appropriation of $3,405 from the county rainy day fund to pay for autopsies, but Conway will need to return next month to get the rest paid for.
The coroner’s office is just trying to make ends meet as it goes into the end of the year, Conway said. The office relies on five volunteers, who are only compensated for their fuel and other motor vehicle expenses, Conway said.