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Much remains to be worked out, but members of the Johnson County Commissioners Court on Monday began the process of planning the budget for the county’s upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Commissioners approved one budget-related item but otherwise simply heard requests from various county department heads.

At this early stage, County Judge Roger Harmon said, that’s about all that can be done.

“Today’s meeting is so we can go over all these requests,” Harmon said. “There won’t be a lot of comments made by us about whether, ‘Yes, we can do that or no, we can’t do that’

“For one thing, we don’t have our tax rolls yet. We’ll get those Sunday, which is coming up pretty quickly. When we get the tax rolls [County Auditor Steven Watson] and I will get together with [County Assessor/Collector Scott Porter] and they’ll work their magic on the calculations to see what we can and cannot do at which point we’ll get real serious about this budget.

“But I just wanted to throw that out there so that everyone understands today’s presentations are just to make us aware of what each department’s needs are. Once we find out how much money we have we can go from there.”

Commissioners did approve a request from County Adult Probation Director Bob Barnes to add the position of a bond supervision officer and to amend the current year’s budget so that the position can begin in August.

The supervision officer helps both the probation office and the courts coordinate and keep track of people on bond.

In that area, Barnes said, the county is “busting at the seams.”

The number of arrested individuals requiring bond supervision rose from 650 the year before to 1,100 in the current fiscal year, Barnes said. 

Funding for the position comes not from taxpayer dollars but rather from participant fees paid by those on bond, Barnes added.

“The numbers have gone up substantially and his office just doesn’t have the staff to handle the increase,” Johnson County Attorney Bill Moore said. “And, as our courts are continuing to open back up, those numbers are probably going to increase.”

Commissioners agreed and approved Barnes’ request.

Department head presentations

Emergency Management Coordinator Jamie Moore led off the morning’s presentations by department heads.

“In previous years we’ve had very little needs,” Moore said. “But over the past year we’ve seen changes in duties.”

Besides Moore, two emergency planners man the office. 

“When I got here we had one other person who handled administration,” Moore said. “Now we have two and both are professional emergency planners. That requires a bachelor’s degree and three to five years experience in emergency management so these are not entry-level positions.”

An evaluation of their salaries shows both to be underpaid when compared to similar positions in counties of similar population, Moore said.

Moore requested a salary increase of $10,000 for each employee to bring both in line with the going rate of pay. 

“Both are educated, experienced and provide a tremendous amount of service to the county,” Moore said.

Moore also requested a new primary response vehicle for the office to replace a 2014 Ford Tahoe with 110,000 miles.

“That doesn’t sound like a lot of miles but that truck has twice had to be towed because of electrical problems while responding to an emergency,” Moore said. “Initially our office was more responding to wildfires, tornadoes and other emergencies. But with COVID-19 and last February’s winter storm our duties have expanded to the logistics of moving personal protection equipment and water around among other things. 

“We’d like to replace the Tahoe because of the mechanical issues and because a pickup would be better suited for when we have to move equipment and supplies around.”

A new pickup with lighting and sirens would cost about $45,000 Moore said.

Moore requested a satellite phone system as well at a cost of $3,500 as a backup for situations where normal cellphone service goes down.

Moore requested a diesel fuel trailer as well as portable tanks for diesel and unleaded fuel in hopes of preventing a repeat of county backup generators that ran out of fuel during Winter Storm Uri in February.

“The county has fuel stored around,” Moore said. “We just need a way to transport it and get it around to where we need it in times of emergency. One of these backup generators, for example, runs the dispatch center at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office if the regular power goes out. The deputies and others took extraordinary measures to get fuel to those and other generators during the winter storm, but we need to have equipment in place to reach those sites should we ever go through another situation like that.”

Johnson County Veterans Services Officer Kathryn Fasci requested an additional employee to help meet the needs of increasing veterans service requests and needs and a 6 percent salary increase for her current staff.

Fasci also requested an increase in next year’s postage and office supplies budget and an increase in the budget to purchase law books and materials something Fasci called vital towards helping her office help defend area veteran’s benefit claim challenges against the federal government.

County constables requested AR-15 patrol rifles for all deputy constables as well as increases in uniform budgets, dues and conference fees and ammunition, law book and postage costs.

Of the rifles, 15 are requested, Constable Matt Wylie said and quoted a price of $852 each.

Public Works Director David Disheroon discussed the need for a building for the storage of county maintenance equipment and gave an estimated cost of $228,000 for the proposed 16,700 square foot building.

“If this is something the court might consider we’d be willing to wait until the prices of building materials begin to come down,” Disheroon said.

With quite a few department heads still to come, Harmon noted that the equipment requests so far were already pricey.

“I’d like to pay cash for most of these but that depends on how are tax roll numbers come out,” Harmon said. “Otherwise, I don’t know if maybe we should consider a two-year bond to cover some of these things provided we approve them. But we’ll have to see. Like I said, we have limited funds just like any other county.”

Commissioner Rick Bailey agreed.

“With those limited funds and with requests for employees or employee salary increases and new equipment we just have to balance that against the reality of what we have money wise,” Bailey said. “Which we don’t know just yet until we get our numbers in.”

Commissioners broke for lunch at noon with presentations from other department heads scheduled for later in the day.

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