Fulton County Quorum Court finalizes 2020 budget

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Fulton County Quorum Court met Tuesday, Dec. 10 for its monthly meeting.

Aside from department reports and approval of minutes, the main purpose was to adopt the 2020 budget, which didn’t happen.

Judge Jim Kendrick presented two budgets for members of the court to review. “Last month we went into detail, account by account, like its always been done and talked about them. There were three or four things that came up suggested to change,” said Kendrick. One change was a decrease in the expected insurance increase. Originally, the county was expecting a 7.5 percent increase. Kendrick reported they were able to bring that amount down further to six percent. Other changes in the presented budget were the JP salaries remaining the same, OEM budget and Boggy Bottom Road account.

One budget included all changes discussed by Kendrick, along with no changes to Boggy Bottom Road account. The other budget was identical with changes to the Boggy Bottom Road account. “The differences are, if you make the changes I just outlined, the county general account would be $1,397,113.48. The rest of the accounts would total $4,650,407.77. The other one is 1,397,113.48 for county general, however; the other accounts went up to $4,958,407.77 [with approximately $308,000 in Boggy Bottom Road funds in road department].”

As JPs were reviewing the budget, they questioned the number of labor hours needed for the Fulton County Office of Emergency Management. JP Johnny Moody noted it appeared more than 40 hours were budgeted in labor. “I thought we had a 32-hour person and an eight-hour person for that position,” said Moody. Judge Kendrick said he recalled Director Mike Harlow requesting a 40-hour position (the director position) and 24-hour position. “That wasn’t what we talked about last time,” said Moody.

“What is the need for that [additional hours]?” asked JP Jack Haney. “I wish he was here. I’d let him speak to that. There are a lot of things we haven’t done over the past years, we being the county. There are a lot of emergency management documents not completed and things haven’t been done that the state office says we are supposed to do,” explained Kendrick.

Judge wanted to give Harlow the opportunity to speak about the reasons why more hours were needed in the Office of Emergency Management, therefore a special called meeting was scheduled before a decision about the budget was made.

The special called meeting was held Tuesday, Dec. 17. Judge Kendrick presented a third option for budget. “Option C is identical with two exceptions; it has nothing in it for Boggy Bottom Road and it doesn’t have the 24-hour deputy OEM position in there,” he explained. He also explained before voting on a budget he would like OEM Director Mike Harlow the opportunity to explain why the extra hours are needed. “I’m ok either way. We’ve beat this thing to death, the budget, in my opinion, my recommendation would be to approve option B. Option B has the six percent insurance increase, does have Boggy Bottom Road because what I said was the grant is still there and AGFC will reimburse us up to $250,000 if we choose to spend $308,000...we pay the first $78,000 and they will pay us back up to the additional amount, so I recommend we put that in there.”

Kendrick stated he hasn’t spoke to a judge anywhere who doesn’t have a full-time OEM and deputy. Harlow, who was present at the special called meeting, said every county has a deputy OEM.

JP Moody made a motion to go with option C, seconded by JP Seth Martin. “Vickie, do you want to poll to see who wants to go with C?” said Kendrick. A vote was called by Fulton County Clerk Vickie Bishop. JPs Ray Matthew and Bob Wood voted against the budget, Marge Rogers was absent, leaving Moody, Martin, Haney, Lynn Maguffee, Burton Yarnell and Cris Newberry in favor of option C.

Confusion filled the courtroom as Judge Kendrick continued, “Before we vote on that ordinance for option C, we are going to let Mike have the floor.” Though the vote had already been taken, Harlow took to the podium to answer questions and explain his department’s needs. He presented a list to JPs of a number of responsibilities he takes on as OEM.

“As OEM, you are in charge of coordinating efforts when there is a disaster in our area, in charge of writing and updating emergency operation plans for Fulton County, and if you look at this right here, this is your emergency operation plan right here, according to all the paperwork, books and files I’ve been through, this hasn’t been updated since 2002. This is what I’ve been working on,” said Harlow. He discussed the grants available through OEM, along with other duties and many roles he serves as director. “I’m asking you to allow to keep going forward as we are trying to keep Fulton County prepared for whatever comes our way. I work hard for these firefighters that are out here right now. They know it, Burton is one of them and he knows it. Do y’all have any questions for me?”

“If we have a disaster and something happens and someone in your district is critically hurt, I hate to say this, but I am going to tell you I told you so because I think we need it. You need to protect your people,” added Judge Kendrick.

“Most disasters, or I guess all disasters, don’t normally call you up and tell you they are fixing to happen. Mike is good, but Mike can’t be on call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. He is going to get sick, he is going to have to go visit someone, he is going to take a small vacation and you look down here and you see the OEM is part of training, scheduling classes, JAWS of life, now of someone is out there in a big car wreck, and we have several in Fulton County, and it’s someone, like Jim said, in your district or your family member, and they need to be cut out of that car and we’ve missed a class or something like that and don’t have someone who can operate the jaws of life out there, we are setting ourselves up to look really bad and I don’t want to be a part of this saying ‘no’ on this vote. This is a whole lot of important stuff and I think we are going to make ourselves look like the laughing stock of the state if we don’t support our OEM,” said JP Ray Matthew.

“We got by several years with 40 hours, I don’t see why we can’t continue with 40 hours,” said Moody, as he was met with, “If you don’t do nothing, nothing gets done.” “That is exactly right, but the world isn’t going to come to an end on every little emergency that y’all want to throw at us when you want more money. We are trying to keep the money in Fulton County for the people of Fulton County, that’s all we are trying to do.”

Discussion continued about upcoming trainings and things needed to be prepared for in the future. The vote had already been taken on the budget, therefore, a motion was made to adjourn.

Another special called meeting has been scheduled as the ordinance to adopt the budget was not read.

In the special called meeting held Friday, Dec. 27, Judge Jim Kendrick and OEM Director Mike Harlow expressed their concerns for needing a deputy OEM in Fulton County, in hopes JP members would reconsider the budget chosen for 2020.

Quorum court members opted to remain with the budget chosen previously and the ordinance was read, formally adopting the 2020 budget.

Judge Kendrick said since that was the case, he felt strongly enough about needing the position, he wanted to hold a special called meeting on Monday, Dec. 30. However, after some discussion and realizing a quorum might not be present for the meeting on Monday, the judge said he would wait to present more information at the first meeting of the new year.

Fulton County Quorum Court meets the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Fulton County Courthouse in Salem.

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