WILMINGTON — The finance director for Robeson County told the county commissioners on Thursday that they need to continue the conservative budgeting they have done over the past several years to maintain the county’s strong financial state.
“It’s because you have been conservative that our bond rating has increased,” Kellie Blue said. “But as we begin the budget process you need to proceed with caution. When you get department budget requests review them carefully and make sure you have a revenue stream to fund them.”
Blue addressed the commissioners Thursday morning during the second day of their annual retreat. The three-day event is being held in Wilmington this year at a Homewood Suites.
Blue said that the county’s general policy of pay-as-you-go on major projects has contributed to the county’s strong General Fund balance of about 27 percent. The state’s Local Government Commission recommends that a governing body have a fund balance of at least 8 percent.
In November, Standard & Poor’s, one of two major financial services companies, raised the county’s bond rating from A to A-plus.
Blue said that the county’s receipt of state sales tax revenue has increased, and the county should receive about $400,000 more in sales tax revenue this year than it did last year.
She also asked the commissioners to move ahead and require all of the county’s employees to have their pay directly deposited in the bank of their choice.
“This will ensure that employees are paid even if there is an emergency situation , like the recent snowstorm, that would prevent us from getting them their paper checks,” she said.
County Manager Ricky Harris praised the commissioners for meeting the county’s needs with frugal budgeting.
“What you guys do with the resources you have is great,” he said. “Less than 5 percent of the counties in the state can do what you guys do with the funds you have available.”
On Thursday, the commissioners were also updated on the status of an employee salary and compensation study now under way. According to representatives of Springsted Inc., the Richmond consulting company conducting the study, it is still uncertain when the final report will be issued.
“A couple of months is probably a good estimate,” Sheryl A. Dallas, a Springsted vice president, told The Robesonian.
John A. Anzivino, the company’s senior vice president, and Dallas outlined for the commissioners how they collected and recorded data.
Anzivino said the study includes updating the county’s present salary and compensation plan, including job descriptions; provides for continuity in jobs and pay; and brings salaries and compensation in line with surrounding counties and municipalities.
According to Dallas, the county’s present pay plan, which includes 53 grades and seven steps, is unusual in that there is only a 24 percent difference in the minimum to maximum pay in a grade level. Between steps there is an increase of 3 percent to 4 percent, she said.
“This is a difficult pay plan to work with,” Dallas said. “The 24 percent between minimum and maximum is very low. Pay ranges for local governments average around 55 percent.”
Both Springsted representatives said that it is important that any new pay plan be structured so it can be amended when necessary.
In other employee-related matters, Constance Young, director of the county’s Human Resources Department, told the commissioners that during the past year the county has hired 79 full-time employees and 71 part-time employees. She also said that a full-time Tech II position, at a compensation of $36,700 salary and benefits, needs to be hired to work in her department.
Young said that health plan claims for 2013 totaled about $10.4 million.This includes combined medical and pharmacy claims totalling $8,846,253.
The commissioners were updated by Terry Buchanan, the county’s director of Computer Operations, on the status of the county’s capacity to store information and the use of the county’s new website.
“People are actually looking at the site. They want information,” Buchanan said. “The Tax and Utilities departments are being most searched.”
The retreat continues today with emphasis being placed on the county’s jail needs. Bill Smith, director of the county’s Health Department, will also address the commissioners concerning the needs of his department.