Last Minute Drama as County Finalizes Budget

Juvenile Court Judge Steve Ellis and Administrator Carolyn Bradford (end of table) appear before the commission to argue in favor of a $6600 raise for Ms. Bradford. They got $800.

​The Dade County Commission finalized its fiscal year 2018 budget at a special called meeting on Thursday, trimming it by $8,400 earmarked for the Dade County Public Library in the original draft and adding in $800 as a sop to a court administrator who had asked for $6600. The final budget number approved by the commission at the June 22 meeting was $9,546,500.

Before voting on the budget, the commission heard from Superior Court Clerk Kathy Page, Juvenile Court Administrator Carolyn Bradford, Juvenile Court Judge Steve Ellis and Donna Street , speaking for the library.

Kathy Page had been asked to explain a sum of $3888 in the Superior Court budget. “She came up with that number and I couldn’t figure out how she came up with it,” said Dade County Executive Chairman, questioned after the meeting.

It emerged that the figure had been mandated at the state level to compensate court clerks’ offices for the responsibility, shifted to them legislatively, of administering a board for final tax appeals and sending out final tax notices. “Do you know how hard it is to get people to serve on that board?” asked Ms. Page.

Rumley postulated that the amount ought to be less for Dade than for a larger county but ceded the point, explaining later the commission had no choice but to do as directed by state law.

Juvenile Court Administrator Carolyn Bradford appeared before the commission to argue for her requested $6600 per annum pay raise the commission had nixed at the budget hearing the week before. Ms. Bradford had come armed with facts, figures and her presiding judge, Steve Ellis. She detailed how she had started out making $100 a month out of which she was obliged to pay her own income taxes and Social Security. Since then she had steadily gained experience and skills, and had finally been granted employee status, but the pay had not kept up. Now she was a court administrator with 15 years’ experience, still making $11-something an hour. The $6600 raise was meant to raise her to $15 an hour, she said.

Ms. Bradford also took the commission to task for humiliating her by citing her by name at the previous meeting, when other employees were mentioned only by the positions they held. She also complained that some county employees were hired in at $16 an hour.

Judge Ellis then also spoke in favor of the raise, praising Ms. Bradford’s work and telling the commission the raise was necessary to make her compensation comparable to what juvenile clerks in neighboring counties were paid.

The commission at first rejected the raise out of hand. “It’s too big a bump,” said one; it would be a morale-buster to other county employees, who were, incidentally, just given an across-the-board raise this year of only 2 percent. Rumley said if anybody was hired in at $16 an hour in Dade County there had to be a pretty good reason; county employees don’t make the big bucks. And Rumley pointed out that granting her employee benefits cost the county $12,000 a year, real money the taxpayers had to come up with.

But in the final minutes of the meeting, District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff proposed raising Ms. Bradford by a smaller percentage, and the commission agreed on the $800 increase.

As for the Dade County Public Library, last week the county’s total contribution stood at $82,100, an increase of $12,600 from $69,500 the year before. Minutes before the final vote, without discussion, the commissioners decided to grant the library only a $4200 increase, which would bring the county’s total contribution to $73,700. Donna Street of the library board of directors had spoken in favor of an increase, explaining it was necessary to bring library manager Marshana Sharp up to a 40-hour paid work week and meet the increased contribution required for the Teachers Retirement System. She said lacking the $12,600, the library would be grateful for any boost it got. Now, seemingly, it will have to be.

Ted Rumley explained after the meeting the county had put the whole $12,600 increase into its budget only provisionally, meaning the amount to be reduced by contributions from the other two local taxing agencies, the city of Trenton and the Dade County Board of Education. “We’re going to put our third in,” he said.

In previous years, Dade, Trenton and the school board shared local support of the library about equally. Now the county shoulders a disproportionately large share. In 2012, the Board of Education abruptly cut off all funding. For two years it contributed nothing, then chipped in minimally until now its annual contribution stands at $20,500. The city’s current contribution is $48,000.

Trenton operates on a calendar year, so that any increase in its library funding will be discussed later. But Dr. Jan Harris, superintendent of schools, confirmed by telephone there had been no increase in the school board’s contribution in its proposed FY 2018 budget, which has already been posted for public review. She said the library had not asked her for an increase, and pointed out that the decision to ax the school board’s support for the library had been before her tenure.

“I’m not a judge,” she said. “I’m not in a position to say what’s wrong or right.”

County Executive Chairman Rumley said after the Thursday meeting that the three taxing agencies should all pay equally to support the library. “Everybody should give a third, to be fair,” he said.

He expressed hope that the city of Trenton will up its own contribution when it drafts its 2018 budget. “The city has to have a library to be a city,” he said. To incorporate, said Rumley, a city must provide certain essential services such as law enforcement, and a library figures among those.

But he said the county was proud of its library and would always do all it could to breach the gap. “All Marshana’s got to do is ask and we’ll make it happen,” he said. “She works way more than 40 hours. She’s there weekends, Sundays. She’s a hustler.”

The county’s fiscal year 2018 starts July 1.

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