We agree with county Commissioner Raymond Cummings. There has been some “pretty good financial leadership” —
to use his words — from the county government that resulted in an audit that didn’t uncover any problems.
So congratulations to County Manager Ricky Harris and his staff, particularly Finance Officer Kellie Blue, whose collective job is to make sure that revenue is aggressively collected, bills are properly paid, and no money is misappropriated. The news is welcome after audits found widespread problems at the Lumberton Housing Authority and Laurinburg-based Four-County Community Services. Investigations continue of both agencies.
Cummings, who made the comment at the county Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, should have stopped talking after the word “leadership.” But he felt compelled to add, “despite what some folks are saying.” We know that barb was intended for this newspaper, but it also includes the growing number of people who are angry about how the commissioners reward themselves with pay and benefits, and protect their elected positions with discretionary money.
Cummings either doesn’t understand what an audit is, or he purposely wants to mislead you into believing it is an endorsement of the commissioners’ money grab as no one, certainly not this newspaper, has questioned the county’s fiscal health. The audit is not a judgment on how the commissioners pay themselves, but is designed to determine whether or not Robeson County is on solid financial footing.
The county is on solid footing, and the commissioners deserve credit — or blame. It is the commissioners who have given Robeson County, arguably the poorest county in the state, a tax rate of 77 cents for every $100 of property, which is the 18th highest among the state’s 100 counties.
The high tax rate cannot wholly be blamed on the commissioners: There are many people in this county who are provided services but don’t own property that is taxed, which forces up the rate — and the burden — on the rest of us.
But the commissioners own this: Our property taxes pay their salaries and stipends, which combined are the fourth highest in the state, fund their retirement, pay for health insurance for them and their family, and fuel the discretionary funds that they use to survive Election Day.
The commissioners have said they will consider the study they asked Harris and his staff to conduct on their pay, benefits and discretionary funds when they are preparing the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Harris’ study confirmed our findings that their pay, benefits and discretionary funds are egregious, so if the commissioners give it an honest look, then a roll back should follow.
Once done, those saved dollars, when combined with the county’s healthy cash reserves that the audit trumpets, should clear the way for a decrease in the property tax rate. That would ease the burden on taxpayers and make Robeson County more attractive to prospective industries and professional people looking for a home.