08/25/06 — No hiring freeze in Duplin County

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No hiring freeze in Duplin County

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on August 25, 2006 1:54 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin Board of Commissioners soundly defeated a proposed county hiring freeze Monday.

At the commissioners' meeting earlier this week, Commissioner David Fussell called for a vote on halting all hiring of new county employees except for jobs related to public safety.

Commissioner Chairman Zettie Williams seconded the motion but made it clear she did so simply to bring the matter up for discussion. After lengthy discussion, Fussell's motion was defeated 5-1.

Fussell, who represents the District 4 area of Duplin that includes Wallace and parts of Magnolia and Rose Hill, said he was urging his fellow commissioners to put a freeze on new hires because of the budget restraints the county is facing. The commissioners dipped into the county's reserve funds to the tune of $3.7 million to balance the 2006-2007 budget. They won't be able to do that again, he said. And the county is going to have to squeeze that much out of current expenses.

"We'll have to refine what we do so as not to use any more fund balance and not have to lay off any people when the new budget is adopted," he said. "There's no way we can raise another $3.7 million through taxes. Where else are we going to cut?"

Some commissioners were horrified at the idea.

Commissioner Reginald Wells said even discussing such a thing as a hiring freeze would cause morale among county employees to plummet.

"We've got low morale. Tomorrow they will pick up the newspapers, and morale is going to go back down. There's going to be a massive exodus, and we won't have to worry about downsizing."

Wells told Fussell he was "jumping the gun" on the recently appointed Fiscal Oversight Committee that the commissioners recently formed to help cut costs.

Commissioners scheduled the committee's first meeting for 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 25.

"We need to let them meet and make their recommendations," Wells said about the new committee.

He told Fussell he was also tying the hands of the newly-appointed county manager, Mike Aldridge.

"We have all these things we want him to do," Wells said. "And we're setting this man up for failure. If I was him I'd turn in my resignation today. I have heard people say and I have read editorials saying 'Stop micro-managing the manager.' We're saying 'We want you to do all this, but you cannot hire anybody to help you make sure it gets done.'"

Commissioner L.S. Guy agreed with Wells about giving the Fiscal Oversight Committee a chance to come up with a solution to the county's money problems.

Ms. Williams suggested they wait. She told Fussell his motion would have much more merit after commissioners allow the Fiscal Oversight Committee to meet.

Aldridge asked the board to give him some latitude and create some efficiencies with the employees.

"Bear with me, and with help of the fiscal Oversight Committee, we can put our heads together and come up with an answer."