06/23/11 — Duplin will raise tax rate after all

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Duplin will raise tax rate after all

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on June 23, 2011 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- After voting no to a tax increase last week, Duplin County commissioners decided to tack a 2-cent tax hike onto the budget Monday night shortly before they approved it.

Commissioner Tim Smith, who proposed the increase, said the $700,000 in additional revenue would go toward giving county employees a salary increase.

Smith said the county is not paying its employees competitively, and that it has lost several long-term workers to higher-paying counties.

"We have lost a lot of good folks over the last six or seven years," said County Manager Mike Aldridge. "And pay is a primary reason in a lot of cases."

Aldridge said the county has been trying to pay its employees at a more competitive rate since 2008, when a study showed that the pay scale in Duplin County was lower than surrounding counties.

"The study is pretty frank and it says many of our employees are underpaid," he said.

But Aldridge said there are concerns that Duplin County citizens didn't have much chance to oppose the tax hike since it wasn't mentioned at the public budget hearing earlier this month.

Faced with possible political fire, the commissioners could reverse their decision to increase salaries, Aldridge said. But the tax hike is irreversible because the budget has been passed.

Aldridge pointed out that the commissioners will not see a pay raise for themselves.

Although the commissioners approved the budget Monday, Aldridge said they are still not sure how much salaries will be increased.

He added that there are concerns that the commissioners should have waited until the county was on firmer financial footing to add a pay raise to the budget.

The deficit in the county's fund balance is $4.3 million this year, leaving 14 percent of those funds available for spending.

The state recommends a county keep at least 8 percent of its budget in reserve.