The Harford County Council plans to add third auditor position for at least half of fiscal year 2015, continuing its trend of increasing the number of employees on its payroll and associated costs.
The council is also anticipating a significant jump in the health insurance costs for its employees, according to its new budget, which council members reviewed Thursday afternoon.
The council's proposed budget for FY 2015 is $2,827,676, a total increase of about $83,775, or 3 percent, from its current budget of $2,743,901.
In the four years since the last county election, however, the council's budget will have grown 26 percent from when the budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year was $2,088,793, according to audited figures.
During that period, the council has hired what amounts to two full-time auditors and a personal aide for each of the seven council member and has significantly upgraded the salaries of its administrator and attorney positions.
In addition to legislative and auditing functions, the council budget includes the board of appeals and rezoning section, Harford Cable Network and zoning people's counsel office. By law, the council sets its own budget, and there is no oversight permitted by the county executive.
Chrystal Moore, hired by the council two years ago as the county's first full-time auditor, told the council members during the budget review that she is requesting six months' worth of funding for a third auditor position.
The new position would be created from an abolished, unfunded assistant council administrator position, according to the proposed budget. That position was approved at an annual salary of $75,000 in the 2012-13 budget but was never filled, according to budget documents.
Moore said performing audits on all county offices every two years, as she hopes to do, requires more than two people.
"We would like to ideally get to a two-year business cycle... and of course that takes a staff of more than two," she said. "It really takes about six, in my opinion."
Pam Meister, council administrator, acknowledged the proposed budget is also "kind of large" because of the possible staff turnover from council members leaving as their terms expire next year.
Two council members aren't running for re-election, and four of the five others have opposition in their election contests. Some positions, such as the council members' aides, the council lawyer and council administrator, as well as zoning hearing examiners and the people's council, serve at the pleasure of the council.
Overall, personnel costs are due to increase $124,775 in new fiscal year, while contracted services will decrease by $38,260, business and travel by $1,260 and capital outlay by $2,255, according to the budget as submitted. There is also a small increase of $755 for supplies.
Meister said the reductions are adjustments to match actual spending this past year. For instance, the council budgeted $85,000 in the current fiscal year for outside legal service, including the zoning people's counsel. Next year's budget projects spending $70,000.
The largest amount of increase in personnel costs is $76,843 for health benefits, which the budget notes are "adjusted for an estimated 10 percent cost increase, as well as staff opting for changes in level of coverage." As a result, the cost of employee health coverage will rise 22.8 percent $454,337. That total will be 16 percent of the council's total budget.
The new auditor position would cost $45,593 annually. Only half of that, about $27,500, would be funded in FY 2015. A remaining $4,173 is for benefits for current employees, Moore said Monday.
Moore's office now has one other auditor besides herself. That person classified as an accountant, but the position will be reclassified to auditor in the new budget, she said.
"This is an administrative change ...to more effectively distinguish the skills and tasks required in the Office of the County Auditor from those of the Treasurer's Office," Moore explained in an email.
When Moore joined the council in 2012, her salary was set at $90,000 annually. Like the majority of county employees, her salary will continue at that level into the next budget because there have been no general pay increases. The other existing auditor position will continue to have an annual salary of $75,000.