By Paul Gable
Horry County Council voted to pay the county magistrates retroactive to FY 2017 for a pay raise that was voted by council but never instituted.
Council voted a three percent pay raise for all county employees beginning FY 2017. The magistrates also received a 3.5% pay raise from the state budget beginning that year.
Despite being included in the county budget to exclude the county three percent raise for the magistrates.
Council member Al Allen questioned how the county got to the point where the magistrates had to threaten to sue the county in order to receive a pay raise approved by county council.
“The public needs to understand how we got here,” Allen said. “Who made that choice?”
Despite the presence of all senior staff at the meeting, not one had the integrity to step up and say they made the decision.
According to several sources inside county government, administrator Chris Eldridge made the decision to exclude the magistrates from the council approved budget pay raise.
Allen made the point that eliminating the magistrates from the pay raise amounted to an amendment to the county budget not approved by council. It takes a three reading budget amendment ordinance passed by an absolute super majority of council (9 yes votes) to amend the budget once it is approved.
Apparently Eldridge believes he can do it by executive fiat.
The magistrates item was not the only pay issue discussed by council.
At the regular meeting two weeks ago, council members Dennis DiSabato and Cam Crawford requested staff to prepare a study to compare the cost of the current merit raise pay policy of the county to a more standard pay scale for public safety employees, such as the one used in other counties throughout the state and in the military.
Instead, assistant administrator Justin Powell and Eldridge briefed council on a study commissioned to compare Horry County employee compensation with 15 similar counties in the region.
DiSabato quickly and correctly pointed out the study commissioned by staff greatly exceeded the direction given by council for the pay study and Eldridge went into a verbal tap dance attempting to justify the expanded study.
DiSabato also told staff to be prepared to discuss a change from the current 180 day policy for workmen’s compensation to a 365 day policy for employees, especially public safety employees, injured on the job.
Currently, employees injured on the job are allowed six months to heal and return to work or they are terminated by the county. This issue is particularly important to public safety employees who have seen peers suffer gunshots (police) or injuries from falling debris (fire fighters) that literally cost them their careers because county policy only allows a maximum of six months to recover.
It is heartening to see council more willing to hold staff’s ‘feet to the fire,’ so to speak. In the council/administrator form of government, council decides policy and staff is hired to carry that policy out. For too long, Horry County has been plagued by senior staff dodging or outright ignoring council dictated policy and doing what it wants to.
One other issue that was interesting was addressed by council member Tyler Servant who put on his ‘staunch fiscal conservative hat’ to question holding the upcoming council budget retreat at the Santee Cooper resort in Pinopolis. Servant called holding the budget retreat at that facility a “waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Servant has a small point that using Pinopolis costs taxpayers approximately $5,000. The retreat has been justified in the past as taking council to a location where it can focus on the budget not only during formal sessions but also use evening and other times to informally continue discussing budget issues.
Having Servant look out for wasteful use of taxpayer dollars is fine. I only wish he would be more aware of the bigger picture of wasteful spending by the county.
Why doesn’t Servant speak out when county staff commissions unnecessary studies like the one mentioned above or the one that is currently being conducted for Hospitality Fee revenues?
How about when the county spent over $80,000 in outside legal fees challenging Treasurer Angie Jones request for an additional position in her office that would have cost the county approximately $40,000 to fill?
Numerous other examples of wasteful spending by county staff, especially in the area of legal issues that never need occur if the county would do the right thing from the beginning, have been met by silence from Servant.
Is it really too much to request staff to do some work in house rather than act as hiring agents for outside contractors?
Five thousand dollars is only a drop in the bucket of what could be saved with a true conservative approach to county spending.