Boundless debt order of the day in Pasquotank County
Controversial salary hikes trigger massive walkout
PASQUOTANK COUNTY — On Monday, April 27, the Pasquotank County Commissioners received information that the School Board was seeking approval for a Capital Improvement allocation of $472,047, pertaining to the final phase of a roof replacement project at Northeastern High School — an amount that they had already committed to pay for this work.
In the process, the county commissioners contemplated using the newly purchased Ambulance and Fire Truck as loan collateral. These vehicles had been purchased with fund balance proceeds (lingo for a governmental savings account), but when this roof issue arose, using the vehicles as collateral for a roof replacement loan was considered.
However, the collateral value is less than the amount needed for the roof loan by an amount of $119,000. So these elected officials began considering how to get around the issue.
The roof work had been approved as part of the current 2014-2015 budget and the County had planned to borrow the money to pay for the roof. However, the Commissioners discovered that much of the high school’s infrastructure had already been pledged as collateral on another loan.
Therefore, an alternative solution had to be found. So in comes the vehicle finance solution!
The proposal from staff was to pay for the roof and the two vehicles out of fund balance money and borrow against the vehicles to repay the county for the majority of the cost, leaving excess costs of $119,454 above expected spending levels.
Did you, the reader, follow that?
Other proposals were submitted, but this was the option that was selected in a 6-1 vote with Commissioner Frankie Meads casting the lone dissent. Meads wanted the county to use its fund balance to pay for the vehicles, in order to avoid the costs of borrowed money. The county staff cautioned against that proposal because it would require several weeks to solicit interest rate bids with the June 30 deadline looming.
The Commissioners were asked to vote on salary increases for three county employees of $10,000 each – a more than 20 percent salary increase. The employees are the Information Technology Director, the Planning Director, and the Personnel Director. Again, as before, the vote was 6-1. Commissioner Meads suggested this situation might ignite a “firestorm” other employees seeking raises, which the County could not meet. He suggested the County should table these requests and look at employee salaries in the larger context rather than just these three employees. But the rest of the Commissioners did not see it that way.
In the private sector, most business managers do not succumb to these types of influences in considering salary increases. These salary increases were on top of a 2 percent cost of living increase, already being considered for all employees.
Then, to make matters worse, the Commissioners discussed the raises in public forum. Once that information got out, the “firestorm” that Commissioner Meads had warned of, erupted, with over 90 employees of the Department of Social Services walking off the job in protest.
There were various statements by Commissioners after this occurred, but the one that was the most explosive was that of Commissioner Dixon, who stated that the employees should be fired. Of course, Dixon has no authority to fire anyone in this department.
The matter has become a huge financial problem for the county, at budget time. The Commissioners are finally starting to talk about raises for ALL EMPLOYEES, albeit with a large costs component.
When this occurred, all the Commissioners, except Commissioner Dixon, said the prospect of raising property taxes “was off the table.” But as budget discussions have proceeded, the department heads have come before the county commission with their wish list for next year.
The School Board has asked for an increase over last year of $727,183 in operating expense, excluding the roof. The Department of Social Services seeks a difference of $151,123 with the Emergency Management Services Department looking to change two part time personnel to one full time position, at greater cost when the health insurance benefits are taken into account.
And this does not include the cost of living hike – estimated at some $2 million. And, so on.
Everyone wants money, as if the Commissioners can pick it off the proverbial money tree. So how are the Commissioners going to handle this matter? The answer: Raise your taxes or borrow more money on top of the borrowing that was originally contemplated with the trucks.
At the time of the employee walkout, most Commissioners said an increase in taxes was not on the table. But when discussing the budget, Commissioner Dixon stated that the only question that had to be asked was “how much tax increase are you prepared to accept?”
The possibility of reducing costs was not discussed.
The recent salary dispute has become a huge financial problem for Pasquotank County. The Commissioners are caught between huge cost increases and a declining population base, which we wrote about a few months ago.
While the Commissioners are finally starting to talk about raises for ALL EMPLOYEES, the debate over how to pay for them has just begun. Some on the county commission have suggested that the salary hikes – which triggered the walkout — should be rescinded until the Commissioners can decide this salary issue as a whole. Absent that, more debt or more taxes seem to be the only way out. Commissioner Sterritt suggested that the high school roof might have to leak for another year.
Any way you slice it, the Commissioners have difficult choices ahead and very few options.
There are several holes in the proposed budget, which will be filled in the weeks ahead. But it appears that the Commissioners are willing to piecemeal the budget analysis. There are still unknowns pertaining to Sales Tax Receipts as well as Workers Compensation Insurance and other related items.
The concern about the salary issue is going to be complicated by Health Insurance costs. The provider has stated that deductibles across the board will be increased, likely doubled, in order to maintain rate parity compared to last year.
Many people believe the Commissioners have been avoiding the salary concerns, for years. They froze the step increase program in 2008 and have not re instituted it since, despite protests from the DSS Director and others. Now they have a huge problem and have not prepared for it. There are numerous excesses in the county budget that could be curtailed or eliminated altogether. But no one looks for ways to save money. So they deal with one crisis after another.
Look for some in the community to demand that our Commissioners look after our concerns, not at the taxpayer base as just a piggy bank to finance their poor management. If our Commissioners were employed as a Board of Directors in private industry, we would have fired them long before now.
Instead, poor performance is rewarded, and the gripe about tax increases continues. We get the government we elect – more true now than ever before.