Enquirer Herald

York Co. Council ponders VFD picnic, personnel requests, merit raises

A defunct annual picnic for more than 500 York County volunteer firefighters may see a comeback, while raises for county employees seem certain.

The York County Council discussed the picnic and raises at a budget workshop Wednesday at the York County Department of Social Services in Rock Hill.

After hearing arguments for and against the picnic, Chairman Britt Blackwell asked county staff to add the $35,000 event to the budget which will go to public hearing on May 30 before the council gives final approval on June 4.

The picnic has been a tradition in the county as a way to thank more than 500 volunteer firefighters for their service to the county. The event was removed from the budget two years ago as an “austerity” measure, said County Manager Jim Baker. At the time, the county was facing revenue shortfalls and layoffs.

Last year, the council decided not to reinstate the event, but this year, council members might reconsider.

Blackwell said first he'd like to hear what the public thinks about the idea.

Councilman Curwood Chappell criticized the idea, likening the county's paying for the picnic to a tax increase.

Councilman David Bowman said “volunteers are taxpayers too. They volunteer their time for no pay” and some of the work is time consuming and difficult, he said, adding that the county already has difficulty recruiting volunteers.

Councilman Bump Roddey said that “if you do the math,” the county would surpass $35,000 “pretty quick if we were paying (firefighters). “The return on investment is huge for what we're getting,” he said. “It should be a no-brainer at this point.”

Councilman Eric Winstead was not at the meeting after saying Tuesday he might miss it.

Winstead had plans to resign after his second arrest in five months for a driving offense last week, but decided Monday to finish out his term.

County departments feel the pinch

County department heads who last year said they could get by without more people are now being more vocal about the pinch of increased workloads as the county grows.

York County’s population grew by 37 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

Some department heads asked for new personnel, but county management didn’t fulfill all requests.

Coroner Sabrina Gast said her office investigated 867 deaths in 2010, 1016 in 2011 and 447 so far this year. Autopsies also have increased.

Probate Judge Carolyn Rogers said her office, which handles estate law cases, is impacted directly by a growing elderly population. Her office has been “operating with the same number of employees we've had since 2006” while seeing the number of estate cases grow by 50 to 100 a year, she said.

Public Defender Harry Dest said his attorneys handle 457 cases a year, well above the American Bar Association’s standard of 200.

Solicitor Kevin Brackett of the 16th Circuit said his attorney’s case load has grown by 50 percent over the last decade, but his office still has the same amount of time in court and has gone along with the same personnel for several years.

He said county leaders need to begin thinking about new facilities and more personnel to meet increasing demand.

Council leans toward 3 percent merit raise

In a brief discussion at the meeting’s end, the councilmen shared which way they’re leaning on giving employee raises.

Before hearing from the public, Councilman Chad Williams said he’s leaning toward county management’s recommendation of a 3 percent merit raise. Other councilmen, including Blackwell, expressed similar positions. Councilman Curwood Chappell did not give input. He left the meeting before the topic came up.