01/10/05 — County officials describe efforts to save, and collect, money

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County officials describe efforts to save, and collect, money

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on January 10, 2005 1:58 PM

When you're contemplating spending millions on the jail, schools and other buildings, every dollar helps.

That's why Wayne County commissioners were grateful Friday to learn about efforts to save the county money. Friday's work session included updates from the leaders of the county's finance and human resources departments.

Finance Director Norman Ricks told the commissioners about several of his department's programs.

Wayne County ranks Number One among North Carolina counties in collecting via debt set-off program, Ricks said. That is a program that allows counties to deduct overdue tax payments and other debts from residents' income tax refunds.

In the last year, the county has generated nearly $193,000 through debt set-off, Ricks said.

Often, the threat of seizing the refunds is enough to get people to settle up, Ricks added.

The county has also started a new way of selling off its surplus property. Rather than holding an annual auction, it is now posting equipment on the GovDeals.com website, which is generating more money, Ricks said.

For example, the Sheriff's Office's retired cruisers used to bring $750 to $800 at auction but sell for $2,000-$2,500 via the website, Ricks said.

When the Solid Waste Department needed a new landfill compactor, a local business offered a $45,000 trade-in on the old equipment. Ricks instead put it on GovDeals.com and ended up selling it for $75,500, he said. "That really tickled me."

The county is also saving money on the meals it serves in its jail. The county has a contractor, ABL Management of Baton Rouge, La., that provides meals that meets all state jail standards for nutrition and caloric intake at an average cost of $1.03.

"They serve a lot of turkey products," Ricks said.

The county began a self-insurance program for workers' compensation last July. That was expected to save the county $250,000 a year, but savings for the first six months were actually greater, Ricks said.

Consulting firm Davenport & Co. LLC is continuing to review the county's finances to make recommendations to save money, he said.

Human Resources Director Sue Guy said her department is saving money by eliminating accidents and reducing turnover.

The county only had 12 percent employee turnover in 2004, which is 8 percent less than 2003, she said. Reducing turnover saves the county thousands in advertising, training and other costs, she said.

Part of the solution has been making better hires, she said. The county has standardized how it posts job openings and the application process.

It is also doing more extensive background checks on applicants. These checks have eliminated nearly 5 percent of the people that would have otherwise received offers, she said.

Her department is also offering orientation, training and retention programs intended to keep quality employees educated and motivated to work, she said.

The county now has an award, named after former personnel director Joe Terrell, for employees who find more efficient ways to work. Methods that save $5,000 or more a year earn those employees cash bonuses.

The wellness and safety programs are intended to keep employees fit and safe, both of which help reduce lost workdays.

Friday's meeting was the first of several work sessions scheduled for the commissioners, who will be setting goals for the next 12-18 months.

The next session will begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Goldsboro Country Club.