DECATUR — Macon County Treasurer Ed Yoder is defending giving nearly $7,000 in bonuses split among three full-time employees on top of raises they already receive, despite board members’ concerns that the money could have aided the county’s weak financial position.
Some board members are upset that Yoder did not return the money to the general fund and also about the process he followed to hire a new chief deputy. They have not approved money to fill the position because of the disagreement. Yoder, who is up for re-election his fall, said he has acted in the county’s best interest.
The treasurer’s office is responsible for collecting property taxes from about 55,000 properties and distributing the revenue among local taxing bodies such as schools, libraries, parks and the county.
The rift developed after Yoder’s chief deputy, Cherie Meyer, retired at the end of September.
The bonuses come from what was left from Meyer’s salary. With two months left in the county’s fiscal year, Yoder said he decided the best action was to give three remaining workers bonuses of $2,300 each. Each employee also received a raise of $650 per year as part of their union contract for the fiscal year that started Dec. 1.
“If (Meyer) stayed here, the money would have been spent,” said Yoder, a Long Creek Republican. He added that his employees have not received any year-end bonuses since he took office in 2010.
That answer is not good enough for finance committee Chairman Kevin Greenfield, a Decatur Republican. He said the county was depending on that money to go back to the general fund to offset its $560,000 budget shortfall.
“We could have used that money, no doubt about it,” said Greenfield. “(County board Chairman Jay Dunn) and I are keeping a close eye on our finances, and unfortunately, the treasurer didn’t live up to the agreement.”
County budget woes
The county board approved a $72.2 million budget for the current fiscal year that includes a cut of $797,421 to the county's general fund. Departments were asked to cut their budgets by 6.2 percent to make up nearly $1 million in revenue loss. Five employees were laid off in the state’s attorney’s Child Support Enforcement Unit, while other departments were able to avoid layoffs through staff retirements and not filling open positions.
The employees who received the bonuses make between $30,000 and $41,000 a year, according to county records. Yoder’s annual salary is $84,000. The office’s budget for the fiscal year that began Dec. 1 is $310,191.
Money not used by an officeholder normally would go back to the general fund, which covers the day-to-day operation of the county, said Auditor Carol Reed.
However, she said it is not unheard-of for officeholders to pay bonuses to employees who do extra work to cover for a vacant position.
Board member Tim Dudley, a Decatur Democrat, was among those who questioned Yoder about the bonuses during the county’s finance committee in early December. Dudley said it didn’t make sense to him why salary dedicated to one person would be spread out to to other employees after the retirement. He also wondered why Yoder didn’t try to find temporary help.
Hiring process questioned
Dunn and Greenfield have also expressed concerns about the process Yoder followed to hire a new chief deputy, saying he violated an agreement with them and also lost out on a grant funding opportunity.
When Meyer retired, Yoder said he contacted Workforce Investment Solutions Director Rocki Wilkerson for help with filling the job. All of the involved officials — Yoder, Wilkerson, Dunn, Greenfield, Reed and Community Foundation of Macon County board Chairwoman Cathy Mansur — verbally agreed that Workforce would help collect applications.
Going through the agency was of particular importance to Dunn and Greenfield because they said they can get grants to pay part of that salary through the Displaced Worker Program with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Yoder received five applications for the job. But when he received the resume of Andrew Burge, Yoder said, he knew Burge was the right candidate. Along with being a native of Mount Zion, Yoder said Burge was willing to work for a salary of $45,500, which is below a typical salary for someone with an accounting degree.
In addition, Yoder said he needed someone in the role who had the ability to co-sign on the 93 business accounts his office has at banks across the county. “I did what I thought was good for the county,” he said.
By statute, all officeholders have control of hiring and firing in their office, but Dunn and Greenfield both said that Yoder went back on his promise to go through Workforce Investment Solutions.
“He’s an elected official. He can hire anyone he wants. They all can,” said Dunn, a Decatur Democrat. “I just think it’s a good practice (going through Workforce). I started it a few years ago, and it just seems to make sense.”
Yoder’s office currently does not have any money budgeted for Burge, who was hired last month. A motion to amend the county’s budget to add money for Burge was pulled during a finance committee meeting in December.
During that meeting, Greenfield and other county board members questioned Yoder about the hire and why he did not allow Wilkerson to work with him to review applicants and test candidates before hiring one.
Yoder said he is diverting other dollars in his budget to cover Burge’s salary and health insurance.
Yoder, who has been treasurer since 2010, has filed to run for re-election in 2018. One opponent, Democrat April Kostenski, said that as treasurer, she would be accountable and responsible not only to the treasurer’s office but also the county board.
“With everyone tying their belt right now, taxpayers expect and deserve better,” she said. “And county offices should be doing the same whenever possible.”
Another opponent, Democrat Shavon Francis, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Yoder reiterated that he did what was best for his office, noting it would be difficult to hire a chief deputy since it’s a non-union position that could see turnover come election time. He said December’s finance meeting was a “political play,” and he will continue to push to restore funding for the chief deputy position.