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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Whitman County shoots down budget amendment

By Josh Babcock Moscow-Pullman Daily News

The Whitman County Commissioners were approached by the county’s weed department Monday morning and asked to amend the 2016 budget to provide more than $5,200 in overtime expenses the department’s one employee has accrued.

The answer was no.

The commissioners, who have tightened the county’s belt and told department heads to watch their spending earlier this year, said they don’t have the money.

“Each department has to have a budget and has to manage the budget,” Commissioner Art Swannack said. “The department should have managed the person from working overtime.”

The commission said that’s what was highlighted in letters sent out to department heads cautioning them about their spending.

“It’s not a fun process for us either,” Commissioner Michael Largent said. “There are other increases we will have to say no to.”

Swannack said the overtime that was accrued could be paid back as compensatory time, that way the department could save on the cost, make the money back and break even. Swannack said it’s up to the department to balance the budget and manage it throughout the year, noting the employee should have stopped working after the work week’s 40 mandatory hours were up.

Whitman County Auditor Eunice Coker asked the commission to reconsider.

“How can you not pay this employee for the time she worked?” she asked.

“The weed department and their role is important to the entire well-being of this entire agricultural county,” Coker said. “I’d like to throw that out there to reconsider … it’s just embarrassing to me and wrong that you’re going to not allow it. If you hired another person in that position so the work can continue it would be a $30,000 job, way more than the budget she is asking for.”

She said the county weed department operates on an “ancient budget amount,” and it is simply not enough to get the job done.

Commissioner Dean Kinzer told the Daily News there hasn’t been a vote on the matter, but compensatory time is a strong option for this time of the year, as weed control duties become more limited in colder months.

“We got people that do that all the time,” Kinzer said. “If you’re on salary like she is, put in 10 hours one day and just put in six hours the next day.”

Members of the county weed board questioned why the commissioners recently received raises if there is no money to go around.

Largent said the commission doesn’t interfere with the independence of the salary commission – which is responsible for setting their wages.

“I’ve never testified or lobbied them in any direction,” he said. “It’s problematic at times, but that’s not my call.”

The county weed department also requested having overtime dollars budgeted for in 2017, but the commission wasn’t very open to that either, as they are still trying to find $140,000 to balance the 2017 budget.

“We all understand the importance of the weed board, but we are still posed with the question where do find the $140,000 to balance the budget,” Largent said.

Workshops will continue through this week as the commissioner work toward balancing the 2017 budget.

“As tight as the budgets are we’ve been considering saying no overtime for anybody because you pay 150 percent of their hourly wages when you pay overtime,” Largent said. “She can put it in her budget but it doesn’t mean we will approve it.”

Josh Babcock can be reached at (208) 883-4630, or by email to jbabcock@dnews.com.

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