06/19/07 — Duplin Commissioners approve budget, salary study

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Duplin Commissioners approve budget, salary study

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 19, 2007 1:45 PM

Voting unanimously Mon-day night, the Duplin County Board of Commissioners approved its $47.4 million budget for the upcoming 2007-08 fiscal year.

The spending plan meets two of three goals laid out by the commissioners in December.

It reduces the county's tax rate from 80.5 cents per $100 value to 79 cents, and it provides for a 2 percent salary increase for all county employees.

The one goal it fell short of, however, was the desire to keep fund balance appropriations at $1.85 million. As approved, the budget is scheduled to pull out more than $3.2 million from the county's savings account, although that amount is still a $400,000 improvement from the current fiscal year's appropriation.

"I lost on our fund balance, but we held to the 79 cents, and I'm tickled about that," said Commissioner Cary Turner, who made the original motion directing the county manager to work toward the three goals.

Other commissioners also came away with somewhat mixed feelings about the budget.

"Satisfied with the 79 cents? I am," said commission Chairman David Fussell. "But the rest of it I'm not. We did the best we could do under the circumstances."

Among those circumstances was the re-inclusion of several items some of the commissioners had tried to cut out, including the county's park and recreation department, the economic development department and three of the county's eight ambulance stations.

The commissioners also approved additional allocations for the county school system, James Sprunt Community College and the sheriff's office.

They also based their Medicaid funding on the assumption the legislature will again be capping each county's portion. If it doesn't, that could mean a further dip into the fund balance.

And while Commissioner L.S. Guy was disappointed they are having to use those reserves, he acknowledged that with the board trying to reduce the tax rate, it was really the only option.

"You're always concerned about pulling out of the fund balance to fund the budget," he said. "But I am pleased we got back what we did."

But not all of the county's employees felt there was enough done for them in next year's budget.

Some departments had their salary scales adjusted -- creating salary increases of more than 2 percent -- while others did not. Several employees, including county planning director Randall Tyndall, complained at Monday night's meeting.

"The two reasons that employees do not produce the expected results in job performance are lack of resources and lack of desire," Tyndall told the board. "...The board of commissioners, along with the county manager and department heads sold the employees on the idea that their concerns of salary equity and their employment future would be secure if they were to invest their time and effort toward continuing to remain employed by Duplin County.

"...Many of the employees have told their department heads that they are disappointed in some of the recent spending decisions made by the board of commissioners. ...Many question the assurances made during the employee appreciation luncheon where they were assured that the board of commissioners would consider their pay concerns."

Those comments, along with several others, prompted the board to follow Tyndall's suggestion and begin work toward completion of a salary study.

The last one was done in either 1998 or 1999, county Manager Mike Aldridge said, but only parts of it were implemented.

Estimates for another one were received in 2004, but the work was never undertaken.

Now Aldridge has been directed to come back to the board with a plan -- not to exceed $100,000 -- to study the pay scale and the level of county staffing.

However, Commissioner Reginald Wells emphasized repeatedly that if they are going to pay for a study, they need to commit to implementing its findings.

"I think it's asinine to say we're going to do the study and then not do what the study requires," he said. "I think we need to make a commitment stating that we're going to fund what's produced in the study; if not, you're going to have a $100,000 document sitting on a shelf collecting dust."

And while no firm commitment was made to anything beyond preparing the groundwork for the study, all of the commissioners agreed that something needs to be done.

"I know there are legitimate concerns on the salaries. We do have a problem," Turner said. "That should be one of our priorities for the coming year."

Also Monday, the board voted to sell year passes to Cabin Lake Park -- $40 for individuals and $100 for a family of six -- and to give out admit-one-free coupons to groups of campers.

The commissioners also voted 5-1 to schedule a meeting with the county Board of Education to come up with a funding plan for possible future school construction. Commissioner Zettie Williams, who joined from home by conference call, opposed the measure. She said she preferred to wait until the school board made a final decision on which building plan they want, but the others decided to press ahead with trying to begin identifying funding options.

And finally, the board voted 5-1 again, this time with Commissioner Harold Raynor dissenting, to direct county engineering consulting firm McDavid Associates to come up with a policy that would allow third parties to design appropriate private water lines to tie onto the county system.