The beginning of 2013 included a newly elected Cass County Commission being sworn into office. The Commission currently consists of three members, including Luke Scavuzzo, Jimmy Odom, and myself. The new Commission hit the ground running upon taking office, tackling a number of challenges and making improvements over the last year with more on the horizon in the year ahead.
One of the first changes was the implementation of a packet system for Commission meetings. In addition to the meeting agendas being made available on the casscounty.com website, packets for each meeting are posted as well, which include the text of proposed ordinances, resolutions, proclamations and orders, as well other business items such as contracts, bid documents, zoning materials, grant applications and meeting minutes. This was a way for the Commission to increase transparency and make these documents publicly available, which previously would have required sunshine requests to be obtained by citizens.
Another change was the scheduling of regular meetings on a weekly basis, which are held each Thursday at 2:30 p.m. This has enabled the Commission to streamline the handling of business and improve efficiency, allowing flexibility to approve items, hold discussions, and conduct hearings in a timely manner.
While the Commission manages a number of county departments—including Road and Bridge, Codes and Zoning, Health Department, Maintenance, Information Technology, and Economic Development—one of the major undertakings each year is the county budget.
The 2014 budget, which was approved by the Commission in mid-December, was a major challenge due to a number of financial issues the County is currently facing. Mistakes made in years past will take decades to recover from. Some of the budget’s main priorities include bringing the County’s focus back towards providing essential services to its citizens, planning over the long term to meet debt obligations, and taking a holistic approach to employee compensation.
Attention to essential services include staffing additions to the Road and Bridge, Codes and Zoning, and Maintenance departments, as well as continuing the County’s commitment to fully funding the Sheriff’s car replacement program and training academy. The budget also provides for an additional road bond issuance of $3 million to be used towards Phases 2 and 3 of the School Road project.
Focus on long term debt planning includes diverting $400,000 from the general fund to a new debt set aside fund to ensure that the County does not default on future payments on the Justice Center, due to the quarter cent law enforcement sales tax not collecting enough money to make the payments. Also included in the budget is a healthy emergency reserve fund of $600,000.
Regarding employee compensation, there will be no COLA for 2014. The budget includes funding for an employee compensation study to assist the Commission in taking a countywide approach to employee wages and salaries, rather than the piecemeal approach that has occurred in previous years. This process will also include input from the various elected officials and department heads prior to any changes being made.
Additionally, the 2014 budget includes funding to upgrade the County’s website, as well as to purchase equipment and software to start video recording the Commission meetings and posting them online, further enhancing transparency.
Without a doubt, I believe the new Commission had a successful first year. While we may not always agree on every topic, there is a continuing spirit of teamwork and a focus on putting the citizens of Cass County first.
I consider public service to be both an honor and a privilege, and I look forward to continuing to serve you in the year to come.