By Conrad Dudderar
A 4%-5% cost-of-living raise for Canadian County employees is being considered as annual county budget talks get underway.
Several Canadian County elected officials, speaking during a recent 2023 fiscal year budget conference, expressed the desire to increase salaries for county personnel who have been faced with higher gas prices and double-digit inflation.
Canadian County Commissioners and Canadian County Excise Board members met June 28 with county officers and department heads to begin their study of an estimated $34.7 million general fund budget.
Several more sessions will be conducted before the FY23 Canadian County budget is finalized this fall.
Canadian County Commission Chairman Dave Anderson said this county is on the “upper end” of county employee benefit packages and compensation levels.
“But I always want to invest in our employees,” Anderson told fellow county officers during the 2-hour 20-minute budget hearing. “We’ve said that year after year. If they truly are an asset, let’s treat them like an asset.
“I would like to see us get to at least a 4% (increase), and maybe 5%. To accomplish that, we’ll need to find roughly another $300,000.”
Chairman Anderson previously asked county officers to “leverage” their cash funds so they could offer this cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) through the FY23 budget.
Meanwhile, Chairman Anderson said Canadian County Commissioners have been “very deliberate” in their efforts to “set aside funds” for construction of a new county courthouse complex.
This includes $7.8 million for capital improvement projects in the general government budget along with an estimated $150,000-$180,000 monthly in county use tax revenues.
Canadian County officials also have the option to earmark $10 million in federal stimulus funds awarded to the county for this future construction project.
A draft document for Canadian County’s general fund budget shows estimated revenues totaling $34,719,238 – an $878,101 increase over FY23.
The current estimate of needs shows a revenue “excess” of $165,246.
Some 53% of projected available funds come from ad valorem taxes, with 40% from a fund balance and 7% from miscellaneous revenue.
Canadian County’s officers and department directors were asked to consider submitting revised estimates of need to help identity additional budget funds that could be used for the employees’ COLA and future courthouse construction project.
20 COUNTY DEPARTMENTS
Proposed FY23 budget totals for all 20 Canadian County departments are:
- District Attorney State Funds: $54,586
- County Sheriff: $6,470,541
- County Sheriff-Jail: $3,969,228
- Expo Center: $1,004,549
- County Treasurer: $684,630
- County Commissioners: $605,449
- OSU Extension: $433,000
- County Clerk: $1,437,596
- Court Clerk: $1,839,757
- County Assessor: $1,618,938
- Visual Inspection: $1,352,183
- General Government: $12,904,951
- Excise/Equalization Board: $17,537
- County Election Board: $635,785
- Charity: $10,000
- County Highway: $530,992
- County Audit: $677,615
- County Free Fair: $186,116
- Emergency Management: $118,039
- Non-Payable Warrants: $2,500
The largest projected increase is for the Expo Center’s budget – 33.82% from FY22 to FY23.
Most of this increase is an estimated $127,367 more for personnel and $131,400 more for capital outlay.
Expo Center manager Nathan Smith cited increased operational costs to cover a “growing calendar of events, additional equipment needs, replacement of older equipment, increases in garbage, mowing, janitorial and an additional staff member to help keep up with the increasing demand for the new facility.”
The Expo Center’s budget proposal includes $267,400 to purchase small animal pens, a new truck, forklift, and laser level; and lease purchase a telehandler, tractor and boom lift.
The Canadian County Expo & Event Center opened in July 2021 on a 52-acre site on the east side of El Reno.
“Last year’s budget process involved a lot of ‘guesswork’,” Smith explained. “We now have a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of staff to take care of customers.”
The Expo Center director cited a “significant increase in traffic” at the county facility with events booked throughout this July and August.
Chairman Anderson emphasized the Expo Center was “never intended to pay for itself”. Revenues collected from facility rentals do not fully cover the cost of operations.
However, Anderson and Smith pointed to the overall economic benefit to Canadian County of hosting so many activities at the center.
Much of the proposed Expo Center personnel services’ budget increase would be offset by a $107,151 reduction in the County Free Fair’s budget. Overall, the estimated Free Fair budget would decrease 35.32%.
The second largest projected Canadian County budget increase is for the County Assessor’s budget – 31.28% from FY22 to FY23.
Assessor Matt Wehmuller explained this is due largely to a $380,000 capital outlay that reflects a one-time increase for a Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) software conversion.
This is an eligible expenditure through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Wehmuller referred to the “significant growth” in Canadian County’s assessed valuation due to housing demand – up 7-8% over last year.
“We’re blessed to be in a growing county,” the assessor said.
Meanwhile, the County Sheriff’s budget will increase an estimated 13.3% and county jail budget is projected to jump 6.02% from FY22 to FY23.
Canadian County Undersheriff Kevin Ward cited the dramatic increase in fuel prices and higher inmate housing costs. This directly affects the sheriff’s office because of fuel needed for patrols and prisoner transport.
The sheriff’s office also has budgeted $128,016 for two new captain’s positions and $325,000 to purchase 10 vehicles. The jail budget shows a significant increase in inmate medical costs.