Government agencies are presenting their proposals for the fiscal year 2015 budget that begins July 1.
Hall County: Tax commissioner
FY 2015 request: Between $1.85 million and $1.94 million
FY 2014 budget: $1.33 million
What’s new: Additional full-time staff and pay raises for current personnel.
Hall County Tax Commissioner Darla Eden is asking for a $20,000 raise, new full-time personnel and more than $500,000 in additional funding for her office in the 2015 fiscal year.
But with revenues expected to increase only slightly over the current fiscal year’s budget, Eden’s requests have met resistance.
Eden has proposed a $1.85 million budget, with personnel costs accounting for much of the new funding. A separate budget scenario, which includes reopening a South Hall satellite office, would bump funding up to $1.94 million. The department’s budget had been cut from $1.5 million in 2010 to $1.33 million this year.
The Times received the tax office’s budget documents through an open records request.
Eden offered several explanations for the increased appropriations she seeks.
First, Eden projects revenues (fees and commissions, which don’t include property taxes) generated by the tax office to top $4.24 million next year, an increase of about $677,000 over the current fiscal year.
Much of that new income wasn’t collected by her predecessor, Eden said, a reflection of the changes she has made since taking office last year.
“I campaigned on efficiency, accountability and customer service,” she said.
In effect, Eden said, the new revenues would offset the funding increases she has proposed.
According to budget documents, the tax office’s expenses account for just 38 percent of revenues generated, compared with 60 percent in Forsyth County, which has a similar population size. That figure is expected to jump to 42 percent if Eden’s funding requests are approved by the Board of Commissioners.
Additionally, Eden said, the tax office’s workload has increased about 30 percent in the last year, primarily as a result of implementing the new title ad valorem tax.
With a heavier workload, Eden is looking to increase full-time staff and reclassify other positions, which entail salary raises, to keep up with customer demands.
For example, Eden wants to move a part-time administrative assistant to full time to handle scheduling, greeting customers, taking calls and other duties.
In all, Eden is seeking to increase her full-time staff by seven between July and December 2014, including the addition of five tag/tax agents and one lead tag/tax clerk. These positions were shed in 2011 with the closing of satellite offices and would cost about $175,000 in wages.
Meanwhile, raises for current staff would total about $85,000.
If approved, total personnel funding for the coming year would increase by about $350,000 and $375,000, depending on whether the South Hall office is opened. Operating costs, meanwhile, would jump by about $180,000.
But there has been some pushback to these proposals from the county’s human resources department, calling into question officials’ appetite for approving the staff increases and pay raises.
In an April 17 email obtained by The Times, Human Resources Director Bill Moats addressed raising wages for tax/tag clerks.
“After reviewing the revised job description that you submitted,” he wrote, “we find that it does not increase the level/degree of the nature of the duties/responsibilities or the experience/education required (which is at the same level as it is currently). So we would not increase the pay grade for the position.”
Eden disagreed, and on April 23 responded: “I healthily and respectfully disagree with your assessment. As of fall 2013, in Hall County all clerks are now cross-trained to process both motor vehicle and property tax transactions. With our clerks cross-trained to handle both, how can you state that there is no increase in job responsibilities, knowledge, skillset, etc.?”
Eden added that the pay rate for these positions in Hall County is below the average for other counties of comparable size.
“I will go to bat for them,” Eden said of her push to raise wages for her staff.
Yet she is likely to face the biggest pushback from her own request for a raise.
In an April 21 memo sent to Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton, Eden laid out her reasons for seeking a $20,000 bump in salary, including increased workload, expanded customer services, implementation of new accountability controls and a growing resident population.
Moreover, Eden said that other constitutionally elected officers, such as the county sheriff and probate judge, had taken local supplements, or raises, dating back to about 2000. But Eden said her predecessor in the tax office had instead taken an optional expense allowance.
“I want to be treated as an elected office position,” she said. “I just wanted to wait a year to get my accomplishments in, and get the office transformed. I felt like I just couldn’t neglect it one more year.”
Eden now makes about $90,000 a year plus benefits. She said she left a $200,000 job in the private sector to run for the tax commissioner’s seat.
When asked what she would cut first if commissioners denied her budget requests, Eden said she would likely limit days and hours of operation for the South Hall office.
“I think the budget is lean,” she said.