Savings sought, large or small
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - County commissioners fished shallow and deep waters for budget cuts at a Friday workshop.
Published: August 11, 2012
Published: August 11, 2012
County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete volunteered to be the first department head in the hot seat. Why, he was asked by Commissioner Greg Harris, is there a line item for copier toner? It's common practice, when leasing copiers, to lease the toner along with them, Harris said.
"We do lease the toner," Gavarrete said. "We have to buy toner for our printers that are not leased."
And why are there 18 phone lines to the engineering department when there are only 13 employees, Commissioner Barbara Stewart asked?
One goes to the fax machine, Gavarrete said, two out-going lines. Another phone is in the engineering conference room.
The line items are small, but the message is clear: The commissioners are watching each expense.
"The days of padding the budget are over," Chairman Jack Richie said.
In traffic operations, which Gavarrete also oversees, Stewart wanted to know why eight employees are being paid standby time, then also paid overtime when they're called out to replace, for example, a stop sign or traffic light.
One or two employees are always on standby, Gavarrete said, because they can be summoned at 2 a.m. by the sheriff's office or Florida Highway Patrol if a signal is destroyed in a wreck or by the weather.
Standby hourly employees cannot leave the county, and they cannot, for instance, consume alcohol. Gavarrete said, "They must be available when they are needed."
The sheriff's office and animal control have counterpart standby employees, but Roads and Bridges Supervisor Kyle Green was asked if his 90 employees are paid standby.
"No," he said, but R&B has more salaried supervisors. If there's an obstruction in the roadway, they pull it off to the side until it can be repaired the next day.
Although Gavarrete said illegal dumping is becoming a more serious problem in the county, the commissioners did not want to pay for public relations advertising. Stewart preferred to include a flyer in the garbage bill or to send a message on the county website.
Is it necessary to repair the recycling bins, Stewart asked. "They're going to be out of service in six months anyway."
"Some of them may not last six months," Gavarrete said. Choice Environmental, which already picks up garbage, is expected to take over recycling next year.
The building department will have one fewer inspector, official S.Y. Moseley said. That position is not funded in the next fiscal year because one worker has retired, he said.
"It would be useful to know how much work was done, as opposed to now," Stewart said.
"Y'all will want to know that next year," she said, because she will be off the board in November.
"What about scrubbers?" Harris asked.
Before he was fired, Solid Waste Director Ken Wheeler advocated filtering the impurities from landfill methane gas so it could be used to make asphalt.
Green said about 30 percent of the asphalt plant's fuel is methane, but it also uses about 80,000 gallons of diesel a year.
He and Gavarrete met with two sales representatives. The first estimates on that scrubber were $800,000, then they were told it would cost $1 million.
"When they said $2 million, we lost interest," Green said. He has not estimated how much diesel could be saved by using more methane.
The new tourism budget shows the proper percentages going into each fund, director John Scherlacher said. The tax passed 10 years ago dictated 29 percent of the 2 percent hotel-motel tax would be used for administration; other percentages were allocated to promote local events, arts and lakes.
Elwell said the Tourist Development Council is still talking with the Industrial Development Authority board "to see if there is a structure that might work for a merger."
Commissioner Ron Handley suggested last month that the two groups might share a common executive director and staff.
"I hope the rest of us can be briefed," Stewart said.