Members of the Murray County Grand Jury for the February term, 2017 returned 98 True Bill indictments and 12 No Bills. The statement released can be found on page A-3.They also toured the facilities of the Murray County Jail and a some suggestions.
A concern for jurors was the old jail being closed and pay scales for the sheriff office employees.
Murray County Commissioner Greg Hogan shares those concerns in a broader sense as he looks to find more efficiency and for ways to increase pay scales for county employees.
Hogan made the decision to change the hours for the county road department.
“We have seen that other counties are doing this for efficiency and money savings. The department will be closed on Friday and will operate Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.,” Hogan said.
“We were having to get jobs wrapped up and get the guys back to the road department with time to get equipment cleaned up and ready for the following day,” Hogan said. All of that with no overtime involved means a shorter work day. Hogan believes workers can be more productive with the longer work day.
“I think it will save us some money, and be more efficient in terms of getting jobs complete.
“We are not the greatest paying county in the state of Georgia,” Hogan said. “We can’t pay any more right now. And it would cost $450,000 just to give a five percent pay increase. But we do want to retain our employees.
“In the 1980’s we probably had 50 employees just at the road department. Now we are down to a little more than 20.”
The county has had turnover in employees who find better paying jobs after they gain a bit of experience.
The sheriff department especially has a high turnover rate in officers who are hired, sent to mandate school and then go to higher paying departments. Those departments do not have to pay for initial training, so the end result is that it costs the county more money to train and replace employees.
Hogan admits that the wages are low.
“This an issue that we are trying to take steps to correct,” Hogan said.
“Those pay scales have got to come up in order to retain the employees that we have,” Hogan said. “It’s a problem across the county.”
Budgets for elected officials only fall under Hogan’s thumb when it comes to disbursing the annual budget and determining the amount. Elected officials are responsible for how those moneys are spent.
Property assessments are being finished in order to determine the millage rate for next year.
Hogan said that until he sees those numbers, he can make no decisions but it is a possibility that the millage rate could indeed increase.
“People want their services,” Hogan said. “They want their roads paved. They want their roads moved. They want to be able to take their garbage to collection sites. They want recreation for their kids. All of that costs money.
“We have no debt, and I’d like to keep it that way,” Hogan said. “But there are smaller communities around us that have higher budgets.”
In 2016 the tax digest, which is the value of the properties in the county, was assessed at $754 million. That is a large decrease from the 2008 digest of $975 million.
“We’ve cut about all that we can cut,” Hogan said. “In the road department alone, we’ve cut the number of employees nearly in half. Take just mowing, you have 600 miles of road in this county. And when you mow roadways, you double that because both sides of the road have to be mowed.”
Because of the amount of rain lately, it took about two and a half months to mow the county once. Crews are on their second pass now. There are usually six people on a mowing jobs.
The road department also has mechanics and takes care of smaller paving and patching jobs as well. Hogan said that supervisors are not just sitting in the office, they are out running equipment.
“This four day week thing is an effort to get more done for less money,” Hogan said.
Compounding the time issue is the fact that to get emulsion needed for paving jobs, which is an asphalt base needed, crews must get that in Chattanooga. And it cannot be stored unless the storage tank is heated and that would be another expense.
“So if you run out of emulsion at 2 o’clock, you have to shut down for the day,” Hogan said. “There’s no way a trip to be made to Chattanooga that day.”
The county is operating under a budget of about $17 million a year currently. There are 25 departments under the county budget umbrella with 260 full time employees.
Gilmer County’s budget is about $20 million with a population of about 28,000.
Murray County has a population of around 40,000.
Gordon County has a population of about 56,000 and a budget of $50 million.
Hogan realizes that employees and department heads are frustrated with budgetary constraints and said he is working towards making Murray County competitive but it will be a process.
Department heads will soon be working on budgets and once that process begins and Hogan sees the tax digest, he will have a better idea of where the county stands financially.
Murray County’s current millage rate is 7.204, one of the lowest in the state.
Raising taxes is not something Hogan prefers to do, but retaining trained and dedicated employees is an important part in providing services.
Hogan touched briefly on the Grand Jury’s suggestion to open the old jail back up to deal with overcrowding issues.
Hogan said that would cost more than $300,000.