STANFORD — Members of Lincoln County Fiscal Court took issue Tuesday with plans from the sheriff and county clerk to send their employees home with a little extra cash in their pockets.
Magistrates voted against a budget that would have allowed a one-time bonus for County Clerk Sonny Spoonamore's employees, while Judge-Executive Jim Adams expressed strong disapproval of Sheriff Curt Folger's move to give his deputies 4-percent raises.
Both situations stemmed from the fact that while the sheriff and county clerk's offices are responsible for their own budgets, fiscal court can still regulate salary caps, which limit how much each office can allocate for paying employees.
Spoonamore's 2013 budget came before the fiscal court for approval Tuesday, but three of four magistrates balked at Spoonamore's request to increase his salary cap by $3,960 to allow an optional, one-time bonus for his employees.
Spoonamore said the bonus would be given out at the end of the year only if his office, which is largely self-funded through collected fees, had enough funds left over.
"If I don't have it, I'm not going to use it," Spoonamore said.
Magistrates Joe Stanley and Johnnie Padgett raised objections to Spoonamore giving his employees extra money while county employees paid from other budgets may not be getting raises.
Spoonamore pointed out his office operates for the most part independently — the county would not be paying for his employees' potential bonuses out of its general fund.
Meanwhile, if the county were to decide later this year to give its employees raises, his employees would potentially be left out since they're not paid out of the county's budget, he added.
Magistrate David Faulkner sided with Spoonamore and criticized the fiscal court for failing to understand the separation that exists between the court and offices like Spoonamore's that operate their budgets off of collected fees.
"If it was coming out of the general fund budget, I would absolutely have to think twice about it," Faulkner said. "It's a fee-based office and you pay those salaries out of the fees you raise."
Adams pointed out that any leftover fees not spent by Spoonamore at the end of the year do get put into the county's general fund. That means a bonus for county clerk employees would cut into excess fees that would otherwise be income for the county, he said.
Padgett said for him, it's not about however much a bonus for county clerk employees might cost, it's about treating all county employees the same.
Padgett and Stanley told Spoonamore if the county were to give its employees raises, they would vote to have the county provide the same raises for county clerk employees.
Spoonamore said he wouldn't want to accept such a deal because then his office would be subsidized by the county, rather than being self-sufficient.
Faulkner said he thinks if Spoonamore has valid reasons for setting his budget the way he wants it, the fiscal court shouldn't be second-guessing him.
"I don't know at what point the court decided that officials … don't get to run their own offices," he said. "I don't understand it and I'll never understand it and I haven't understood it for the past six years."
Faulkner motioned to approve Spoonamore's budget including the amended salary cap, but the motion died for lack of a second.
Padgett then motioned to give Spoonamore the same salary cap — $198,000 — that he had in 2012, preventing the bonuses. Stanley seconded the motion and it passed 3-0, with Padgett, Stanley and Magistrate Lonnie Pruitt voting yes and Faulkner abstaining.
Sheriff gives deputies raises
As Tuesday's fiscal court meeting was wrapping up, Sheriff Folger told magistrates he would like them to pass a motion approving of his recent move to give his deputies 4-percent raises.
"I'd like to have your all's well-wishes on it," he said. "I'd like to have a vote on it."
Adams said Folger is underneath his salary cap by enough money to give out raises if he wants to, but when the fiscal court voted last year to leave his salary cap at $388,000, it didn't do so with the intention of allowing raises.
Adams said Folger never brought up the idea of raises for his deputies while the sheriff's office and fiscal court were holding budget work sessions in December, but Folger said he had "no thought" of a raise at that time and the idea to move forward with a raise only happened recently.
Folger and Adams disputed whether raises were an appropriate move or if the sheriff's salary cap would allow him to hire an additional deputy instead, but no agreement was reached and no action was taken.
Faulkner said he didn't understand why the issue was before the fiscal court in the first place.
"If you want to give your raise, that's up to you. We've already set your salary cap," Faulkner said to Folger. "It's been done."
But Adams and Folger continued to disagree. Figures from the sheriff's office and judge-executive's office don't match up either when it comes to how much is being paid in salaries to the sheriff's employees.
According to numbers provided by Folger, he is paying a total of about $374,650 in salaries before accounting for the deputies' raises, leaving him $13,350 underneath his salary cap.
After the deputies' raises, which will cost about $5,150, Folger said he will have about $8,200 of space under his salary cap.
Hiring a new deputy would cost about $26,000, he added.
According to numbers provided by Adams' office, the sheriff's office paid out a total of $365,423.33 in salaries in 2012, more than $22,000 under the salary cap.
After accounting for staffing changes that could lower the cost of sheriff’s office salaries by around $9,000 in 2013, Adams said he believes there's enough space left under the salary cap for Folger to hire an additional deputy.
Folger said he needs to be allowed to do his job and handle his own employees' salaries without so much interference from the fiscal court.
"It's the people that elected me to run that office," he said.
The deputies raises were not processed by the county in time for their most recent paychecks, but Adams said when the raises are processed they will be made effective retroactively to when Folger first put them in place.