Budget chief suggests using inmates as road workers $75,000 savings seen

Brown cool to idea

March 31, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll could do more road maintenance and save $75,000 if county prisoners were used as flaggers on road construction projects, the county budget director said yesterday.

But County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown is cool to the idea.

"This issue scares me," said Brown. "The more I drive, the more I realize that flaggers have my life in their hands. I'm not at all comfortable with guys from the jail having the right attitude or attention span" to control traffic at construction sites.

Budget Director Steven D. Powell said Carroll would not be the first jurisdiction in the state to use prisoners as flaggers. Prisoners would receive training and become "certified" before going out on road projects, he said.

Brown was not convinced.

"Some of the people [in the Detention Center] are in that situation because they had an [anti-public] attitude in the first place," he said.

Powell offered the proposal during a budget hearing yesterday as an alternative to a budget request from J. Michael Evans, the county public works director.

Evans had asked the commissioners for an additional $75,000 in a $10 million spending request to hire summer employees as flaggers.

Having well-trained people is essential, he said. "I think of flaggers more as saving our people's lives than yours," Evans told Brown and Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates.

Two members of each of the county's six- to eight-person road crews act as flaggers. Hiring seasonal flaggers would free those crew members for construction and would allow the county to repair more miles of road, Evans said.

Powell is negotiating with Warden Mason Waters about making prisoners available.

Attire might be an issue.

Sheriff John Brown requires Detention Center prisoners to wear prison stripes -- black-and-white outfits with large red P's on the back. "I have asked if they can wear orange jump suits rather than the black and white," Powell said.

He told the commissioners he would bring the proposal to them after he and Waters had worked it out.

Evans was one of four department heads to meet with the commissioners to seek at least the same level of funding in the fiscal year beginning July 1 as they are getting now.

If the commissioners turn down the proposal to use county inmates, Powell will recommend against putting money for flaggers in the fiscal 1999 budget. "We haven't funded it for years," he said.

Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. was another yesterday who sought an increase above what Powell has recommended for the coming year. Beck asked the commissioners for an additional $15,000 to give 21 of his 121 court employees a 2 percent merit raise. The raise would be in addition to any cost-of-living raise the commissioners decide to give employees.

Although the county set up a merit-raise program for the court in 1992, it has never been funded, said Beck, who is requesting $1.3 million total in the coming year.

"We have worked very hard in setting up and implementing this plan" and continue to evaluate employees annually, he said, "but we have not received any funding to be able to reward our outstanding, hard-working employees and to show them that this compensation plan actually works."

Such raises are not likely this year either, Brown said.

"I don't know that we could give your employees merit raises and not do it for others," Brown said.

Dell, who was elected in 1990, said the county has not provided merit raises since he has been in office.

Beck said the court has saved money that could be applied to raises by getting a used copier free from the federal marshal's office rather than buying a new one.

"Everybody does that," Dell said. "Our staffs go out of the way to save money."

The commissioners will continue their review of departmental spending requests tonight when they meet with the Board of Education.

They will hold work sessions on departmental budget requests next week and will adopt a proposed budget, which will be the subject of a public hearing May 7.

The commissioners plan to adopt a budget for fiscal 1999 and set the property tax rate on May 28.

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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