The development of Cherokee County’s annual budget requires several steps, but it begins when individual departments provide reports of estimated needs at the end of each fiscal year.
“We get our estimated needs before we know what we have to spend,” said District 1 Cherokee County Commissioner Doug Hubbard. “We get the actual dollar amount available after we get their needs.”
Hubbard said if funds are available to pay for the estimated needs, they are approved; otherwise, the department heads will negotiate a new budget.
“They have to justify why they want an increase,” said Hubbard.
He said elected officials – three commissioners, the sheriff, treasurer, assessor, county clerk and district court clerk – head up most departments. Each department usually requests a 2 to 4 percent cost of living increase.
“Sometimes we haven’t been able to do that,” said Hubbard.
Since 2010, the sheriff’s office has received funding to supply employees with about a $600 per year raise. Records show there was one exception, in 2011.
“They gave us money last year – I think $38,000 for raises for employees – but they didn’t pay the fringes on it, so by the time we got through, we had about $20,000, which is not much,” said Sheriff Norman Fisher. “I’ve asked every year for raises because I think we’re probably the lowest-funded out of the whole deal. I’m not against the other county employees, and I’m not saying anything negative about them for getting good salaries, but we do need to equal out the salaries some.”
Hubbard and Cherokee Court Clerk Shelly Kissinger both said all funds for raises during the last year had gone to the sheriff’s office.
Kissinger said her employees did receive a slight raise, but it was from a separate court fund. This was the first raise for employees in the court clerk’s office in five years because the office falls under the state’s hiring freeze.
“Our office is a little different,” said Kissinger.
She said that while her employees are paid in part by the county, all maintenance and operational funds come from a court fund, which is approved by the Court Funding Board comprised of Kissinger, District Judge Darrell Shepherd, and Association District Judge Mark Dobbins. The desired budget is then sent to the chief justice of Oklahoma’s Supreme Court for approval.
In the past year, one employee left the court clerk’s office. Kissinger put in a request to hire another person to fill the position and also requested raises for her employees.
The chief justice did not approve a new hire, but did approve spending the salary for the dissolved position on raises.
The county is not under a hiring freeze, nor are there currently any stipulations controlling raises.
“We don’t get that every year,” said Cherokee County Clerk Cheryl Trammel. “We didn’t get that last year. We don’t know if we’ll get them next year. It just depends on the budget.”
The three county commissioners also receive salaries as part of their elected position.
Each makes over $61,000 a year, according to records provided to the Daily Press from county officials. Fisher receives the same salary as commissioners; all others county employees’ salaries fall below that amount.
Once a budget is approved by the county commissioners, it is sent to the Cherokee County Excise Board to be reviewed again.
James Haney, chair of the excise board, said Thursday that he would not comment about decisions regarding payroll.
Once the excise board approves the budgets, they are sent to the state for final approval.
Members of the excise board, which meets twice a month to discuss the county budget, are each paid $2,300 for their service.
“We actually don’t get an approved budget until October,” said Hubbard.
He said the county will receive 90 percent of half of the county’s requested budget, which is maintained by the county treasurer, Inez Peace.
Peace was out of her office and unable to comment on Thursday.
Peace, Trammel and Kissinger – all elected officials – receive salaries of $59,000 per year, according to county records.
Cherokee County Assessor Marsha Trammel has a $60,000 annual salary. She said her office has received raises in the past five years, but they did not receive raises during the last fiscal year.
She also said that while her employees are only required to have high school diplomas, they do have multiple requirements from the Oklahoma Tax Commission once they are hired.
“When someone comes in, I have to tell them that they will take seven different classes,” said Marsha Trammel. “You have to pass them.”
She said employees can work while taking these classes, but once the classes are completed, all employees in the assessor’s office – including Trammel herself – must complete 30 hours of continuing education every three years. These courses are offered through the Oklahoma Tax Commission or an associated group with Oklahoma State University.
Kissinger said elected officials are the only county employees required to have graduated from high school, and any further stipulations are decided by each department.
She said while there are three people in her office with college degrees, her office only requires employees have high school diplomas. They also receive training to cover changing court processes and software.
Deputies who work in the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office must have completed, be enrolled in or be participating in the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training within six months of being hired, according to Fisher.
Officers must also receive 25 hours of additional training each year, he said.
CLEET pulls students away for 16 weeks, so Fisher prefers to hire officers who have already been certified. Doing so isn’t always an option.
“It’s hard to keep good, young CLEET-certified deputies because so many want to get that training, and once we put them through it, another agency can hire them away” with a higher salary, said Fisher.
“We’ll lose them to someone else. Our deputies might make $24,000 a year, but the city can pay around $37,000 per year for a patrolman. It’s such a big gap.”
Other agencies often provide funding for officers to purchase uniforms and equipment, but Fisher said that money doesn’t exist for the sheriff’s office.
Deputies are provided a badge, bullet-proof vest, and when funding is available, hand-held radios – but they must pay for their own uniforms, ammunition and firearms.
“If we have any firearms, we may be able to loan them out, but we otherwise don’t furnish them,” said Fisher. “It would be a big help to have funding to purchase the equipment. A lot of times when you’re a young law enforcement officer, you don’t have the money to buy the necessary equipment.”
Staff Writer Josh Newton contributed to this story.