10/25/09 — Duplin gets 359-page report on daily operations

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Duplin gets 359-page report on daily operations

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 25, 2009 2:00 AM

Duplin County department heads are getting a first look this week at the Evergreen agency's efficiency audit results, and will have the chance to provide commissioners with their own comments.

The draft report of the audit, 359 pages long, was sent to the departments this week. County commissioners also received a copy.

The study evaluated the effectiveness and efficiency of county management, organization structure, legal services, policies and procedures and strategic planning. Duplin County paid Evergreen $120,000 to conduct the study. The final results will be presented to commissioners Nov. 16.

Where necessary, Evergreen workers used information from Sampson, Lenoir, Columbus and Bladen counties for comparison purposes.

According to information included in the report, Duplin funds 37 percent of county costs by using property taxes, a higher percentage than any of the comparison counties. Two peer counties spend less on education, while the other two spend more. However, Duplin County's percentage for education is 10 percentage points below the average, Evergreen found.

Duplin County also spent more money on general government than any of the peer counties, according to the report. Only Bladen County had a higher percentage of expenditures for salaries and wages of county employees. The county spends $885 for each county resident, $182 less per resident than the peer average, Evergreen found.

Initial recommendations made by Evergreen include restarting County Manager Mike Aldridge's management team, improving the storage of critical historical records including meeting minutes, forming a five-year county-wise strategic plan, developing a detailed purchasing policy, securely storing personnel files and developing a comprehensive disaster recovery plan.

Some offices and practices were praised for operating efficiently. The county manager's office is "one of the leanest seen by Evergreen consultants," the report stated. Additionally, all the public safety personnel the Evergreen team interviewed displayed "professionalism, enthusiasm, pride and care regarding their public safety assignment," the report said. "Duplin County government and the citizens of Duplin County can be proud to know their public safety employees have a strong desire to provide an outstanding level of service and quality work products."

Evergreen commended the county's public safety personnel for their "adapt, overcome and improvise" attitude. However, there is no strategic plan for the public safety departments, the report said. Evergreen recommended developing such a unified plan, and immediately implementing it for the emergency/911 communications departments throughout Duplin County.

Also, the fire inspection code, which is currently being reevaluated and researched, is not comprehensive and should be made clear, the report said.

Other issues addressed in the report included:

*There is currently no conflict of interest policy nor form for commissioners to complete when elected to the board.

At the moment, Duplin commissioners are not required to disclose any specific business interests they have that could come before the board for policy decisions. The commissioners are also not currently required to remove themselves from voting on issues that could be related to their own financial interests.

The Evergreen report supports making this a requirement for all new commissioners and requiring existing commissioners to provide information on any business interests they may have, and recommends they also provide notification of any family members or associates who might come before the board for "specific business that would have a financial impact on the Commission member."

*The Duplin Events Center has been operating at a loss since its inception and in 2009-10 is expected to lose more than $313,000.

The Evergreen report recommends that county government find a way to ensure that the Events Center Enterprise Fund breaks even no later than the 2011-12 fiscal year, "with significant progress in 2010-11." Evergreen projects that the fund will show profitability by 2013.

*The Duplin County manager and county attorney do not have employee agreements or contracts with the Duplin County Board of Commissioners.

This is a highly unusual situation, according to the report. While county managers and attorneys in N.C. are not allowed to have employment contracts due to state law, it is common for manager to have employment agreements for a specified number of years describing benefits, specific termination terms and other items. The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners recommends that managers be employed under those terms, according to the Evergreen report.

*The county does not have a performance measurement system in place for senior managers, including department heads.

These systems are becoming more common among local government, and one should be put in place for Duplin County, the report advised.

*There is no oversight from the Board of County Commissioners nor county manager in terms of the drafting and execution of contracts for outside legal services. There is also no specific reporting method for informing the commissions of the amount of money being spent on outside legal counsel.

Although most of the county's expenses for outside legal services are reimbursed by state or federal government, the Evergreen team recommends the county closely monitor the funds used for this purpose.

*Duplin County does not have a comprehensive policy manual and does not implement common policies often found in other county governments. Those policies that do exist are outdated, the report said.

The lack of procedure and policy in the county is a "recurring theme" throughout the report, it said. Updating the personnel and other policies and developing a policy manual is an immediate concern, the Evergreen report said.

*Duplin County does not have a general fund balance policy.

The general fund balance decreased 56.6 percent between June 30, 2006 and June 30, 2010, based on projected figures, falling from $13,196,262 in 2006 to a projected 2010 fund balance of $6,983,703.

Evergreen recommended the commissioners create a policy to guide decision-making in order to keep a healthy fund balance.