11/21/06 — Duplin commission has $238,508 paramedic bill

View Archive

Duplin commission has $238,508 paramedic bill

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 21, 2006 1:45 PM

The Duplin County Board of Commissioners was busy writing checks again Monday morning, but members decided to hold off on signing the biggest one -- paychecks for county emergency medical personnel -- until at least February.

Speaking at only his third commission meeting, new county emergency medical services director Brian Pearce was forced to be the bearer of bad news -- telling the commissioners that there is not enough money in the budget to pay the county's paramedics.

When county officials were making their projections for the 2006-07 budget, Pearce said, they neglected to take into account the fact that paramedics are not 40-hour-a-week employees. Rather, they almost always work 48-hour weeks.

Because of that oversight, and the implications it has for holiday, vacation and sick pay, the county has a total salary and Social Security tax deficit of $238,508.

The problem, county emergency services director Craig Forlines said, is not an old one. It's happened the last three years.

However, fiscal year 2007-08 will be the first year that he, Pearce and county manager Mike Aldridge will be involved in the entire budget process.

"It's not going to happen again," Forlines said. "We've solved the problem."

Right now it is unclear where the county will find the additional funds -- one reason commissioners delayed making a decision until February. Currently no paramedic is in danger of missing a paycheck.

But before Pearce presented the board with the bad news, most of them were feeling quite generous, dipping once again into the county's fund balance.

This time an additional $15,000 was given to the county parks and recreation department. In previous meetings, the board had spent nearly $1.5 million out of the savings account.

The reason for the request, parks and recreation director Dianne McNamara explained, is that for the last three years the department has received $30,000 to provide 50/50 matching grants to county towns and civic organizations. The funds go toward local recreation projects.

This year, though, the commissioners budgeted only $15,000 for the grant program, which has received more than $53,000 in funding requests.

"We want to continue to offer the matching grant program and fund as many projects as possible," McNamara said.

But not all the commissioners were on board with spending the extra money this time.

"I've been accused of opening that door to the fund balance and I'm guilty of that, but I don't think we should continue to open that door," commissioner David Fussell said. "I think we've used up all of the available funds we can possibly commit."

The rest of the commissioners, though -- minus Larry Howard who was absent for medical reasons -- voted to provide the funding.

"Recreation is a critical part of what we do," commissioner L.S. Guy Jr said. "Here is an opportunity to give back to the taxpayers in their communities, and I don't know why we wouldn't do that."

The board also voted to spend an additional $72,323 in change orders for the county's new waste transfer station -- a project that was bid at about $1.9 million, but is now costing about $2.1 million.

This latest change order, county solid waste director Bee Barnett said, should be the last one. It is coming out of his department's existing funds.

But some of the commissioners didn't like the fact that there had been so many.

"This building is one of the most expensive per-square-foot that's ever been built in Duplin County and it's to hold trash," Fussell said, voting against the appropriation.

The problem, explained project engineer Wayne Sullivan of Municipal Engineers in Garner, has been a number of flaws that were discovered in the ground, requiring extra stabilization and paving.

However, Barnett said -- and the other four commissioners agreed -- there's little that could have been done to prevent the problem.

"These kinds of things just happen. We're going to have a No. 1 facility for a number of years to come," said Arliss Albertson in his last meeting as a county commissioner.

Albertson, along with Howard, was voted out of office earlier this month. He will be replaced by Harold Raynor. Howard will be replaced by Cary Turner.

"It has been an honor for me to serve the citizens of Duplin County the last eight years," he said. "I especially want to thank the people of District 3 for your support and trust.

"I have always held that trust close and worked diligently to give of my time and talents for all the people in this great county, a place I am proud to call home. ... I have assured them (my constituents) you (the rest of the board) will all do the right thing to be a progressive community and portray fairness in all that you do for them. ... Personally, I look forward in continuing to serve my community in the same manner as always."