The Linn County Board of Supervisors’ annual budget-building process includes a process called "offers" in which the department heads in county government try to sell a new need not now being funded.
On Wednesday after previous reviews and deliberations, the board unanimously approved $881,901 in new spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1, which includes money for three new county employees, one in the Sheriff’s Department and two at Public Health, and $500,000 in new conservation funding.
Almost an hour of Wednesday’s meeting, though, was taken up in a back-and-forth, which at times turned rancorous, between the supervisors and the county’s budget staff on one side and Linn County Auditor Joel Miller on the other.
Miller, who characterized himself at one point as the "watchdog" of the supervisors, unsuccessfully sued the five-member board in court last year over other disagreements.
At issue on Wednesday was Miller’s "offer" for additional custodian help -- equal to 2.25 full-time employees and at a cost of $119,631-- to help the existing facilities staff, which he oversees, clean the county’s 11 facilities.
Miller argued that he needed the help because the county has added 82,000 square feet more in building space since the flood, including a new juvenile justice center and an addition to the county’s administration building.
However, the supervisors asked Miller to provide more detail in addition to the measure of additional square footage, which Miller countered was "the standard in the industry."
Supervisor Linda Langston said a breakdown of the number of bathrooms, which require more cleaning than a hallway, might provide a more complete picture of the need.
Miller accused the supervisors of making demands on him that they didn’t make of other department heads, though Supervisor John Harris, the board’s chairman, had Steve Tucker, the county’s finance director, establish that both the Sheriff’s Department and Public Health had done a more thorough job of making a case for new employees than Miller had.
In the end, Miller agreed to provide more detail and the supervisors agreed to take another look next week at Miller’s proposal for more custodial help.
An undercurrent in Wednesday’s debate was Miller’s contention that the supervisors intend to remove oversight of the county’s facilities operation from Miller’s office and transfer it to the supervisors’ control.
"I think you know where this is headed," Miller said at one point, although some of the supervisors said that was not the case.
After the meeting, Langston and Supervisor Lu Barron said that they are considering a reorganization plan that could shift the facilities responsibility to the supervisors, but such a plan needs further study and would need a majority vote of the supervisors. Supervisors in the past have contemplated a similar move, Barron noted.Supervisor Ben Rogers said the board’s agreement on new spending will add an epidemiologist at Public Health to better analyze health data and direct health resources in the community, a Public Health environmental health specialist to improve inspections of restaurants, hotels, motels, pools and tattoo parlors, and a new sheriff’s deputy to help with the increased demand to transport people with mental problems.