11/26/06 — County finance director to retire after 30 years

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County finance director to retire after 30 years

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on November 26, 2006 2:00 AM

Norman Ricks just doesn't get headaches.

Even after creating county budgets for the past 30 years, the Wayne County finance director can only remember a handful of times that his brain hurt from crunching numbers -- or anytime for that matter.

"I think I've only had a half-dozen headaches in my whole life," Ricks said.

But that's not to say that the soon-to-be retired finance director hasn't worked hard. And when he retires from his post Dec. 1, he will cap a career that has spanned decades.

"As a child -- I was maybe 9 or 10 years old -- my dad told me that people never amount to anything if they don't work, and that I won't get what I want if I don't work," Ricks said. "So, I went to the store and got a push mower and mowed lawns. That was my first real job."

Ricks continued to work, which lead him to a variety of positions in Wayne County government and to eventually become the county's finance director in 1984. Since then, Ricks and the finance department have helped save the county "hundreds of thousands of dollars" by implementing programs and enacting other cost-savings programs.

Ricks said he helped change the way food service was handled at the county jail. The county used to handle the food service itself from preparation to serving the meals. Now, by contracting out the work, the county spends roughly one dollar per meal per inmate, he said.

The county also began contracting with a company that provides copy machines, the machines' toner cartridges and maintenance. Instead of paying for each copy machine, Ricks said the county's costs are limited to paying for paper and a flat rate per copy.

These accomplishments, along with many others, have not gone unnoticed. The Wayne County finance office has received the National Association of Counties' Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the last 10 years.

And despite the hard work Ricks personally put in to receive those awards, he never takes credit.

"That's not an I thing," Ricks said. "We did it."

Ricks, a Wayne County native, grew up in Mount Olive and attended Southern Wayne High School. After graduating in 1968, Ricks went to Weslyan College in Rocky Mount, where he received a bachelor's degree in business and accounting.

He soon married his high school sweetheart, Donna, and took a job as branch manager for First Citizens Bank in Mount Gilead before beginning work with Wayne County as the payroll administrator. Ricks also served the county as the assistant county executive officer, county accountant and Board of Commissioners clerk before being promoted to county finance director.

Ricks said Wayne County's financial picture has changed over the past three decades. In 1976, when Ricks began working for the county, Wayne's tax base was $787 million and numbers were crunched using an adding machine and pencils. That amount has skyrocketed to about $5.8 billion over the past 30 years. Totaling the numbers has become easier thanks to computers, he said.

A single penny has also changed over the past 30 years. One cent on the tax rate used to be the equivalent of $71,000. That same cent now represents $550,000, he said.

And co-workers and acquaintances say Ricks has done a good job handling that money over the years.

"If I had to say anything about Norman, I'd say that every taxpayer in Wayne County owes him a thank you," former Wayne County Manager Will Sullivan said. "He looked after the taxpayers' money well."

And that included being on the job most every day. During his time with the county, Ricks hardly ever missed a day of work. He even accumulated 18 months, or about 3,000 hours, of sick leave over the past 30 years.

And once his last day as a Wayne County employee comes and goes, Ricks said he will continue to work hard. Although that might mean chores around the house, Ricks is welcoming the extra time with his family -- especially his 7-month-old grandson, Hunter.

"I can't wait to teach him how to fish, carpentry and other basic training," Ricks said. "I want to teach him all of the things he can use during his lifetime -- plumbing, wiring, automobile mechanics."

Although Ricks might never work on another county budget, he said he is ready for the next stage in his life. And to see the progress of the next finance director, Pam Holt.

"I'm leaving on a high note. There are no clouds over me. I had fun in all 30 years with the county and I hope (my predecessors) continue trying to save the taxpayers money," he said.