LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday agreed to cut its members’ discretionary funds for the upcoming fiscal year by $10,000 each and do away with free family health insurance.
The moves will save the county an estimated $110,000 a year, according to County Manager Ricky Harris.
The motion for the cuts was made by Commissioner Roger Oxendine and it was approved unanimously, but Commissioner David Edge missed the meeting. Commissioner Tom Taylor made a motion that the commissioners look at cutting their salaries and mileage stipend, but it died for a lack of a second.
The free family health insurance saved the commissioners a little more than $300 a month, the amount county employees pay for the family health benefit. All the commissioners except Chairman Noah Woods and Taylor were taking advantage of the benefit.
The commissioners will continue to get free health insurance for themselves, retirement, a $700 monthly stipend, and their salaries will remain the same. The Robesonian has looked and found that the commissioners’ salary and stipend when combined make them the fourth highest paid commissioners in the state. The commissioners also can take free health insurance with them when they leave the board if they have served on it long enough.
The commissioners last year got rid of a deferred compensation plan that allowed them to draw salary after they left office.
Oxendine said Monday that he made the motion to reduce the discretionary money and eliminate free family health insurance because “it was recommended by the staff and a third party.” Oxendine may have been referring to Tony Normand, the former executive director of COMtech, who did an informal study of their pay, benefits and discretionary money, and reportedly made recommendations. Those recommendations were verbal and were never made public.
Before Oxendine’s motion, Harris recommended the $80,000 reduction in the discretionary fund, which this year was a total of $320,000 for the commissioners to divide equally. The commissioners will each lose $5,000 of $20,000 designated for township use and $5,000 of $20,000 for recreational use.
According to Harris, dropping free health insurance for the family of commissioners has the potential to save the county about $30,000 for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“The commissioners will now be treated like all other county employees,” Harris said. “If they want family health insurance, they will pay $311 a month, just like other county employees.”
The action came during the last budget work session. It fulfilled a promise by Woods that the matter would be addressed and talked about openly. The commissioners over the years have increased their pay and benefits during the budget process, and without discussion in public.
“My word is my bond,” Woods said after the meeting. “When I tell you I’m going to do something, I do it.”
The $145.5 million budget is $4 million more than the current budget, and includes a General Fund of almost $107 million. It calls for maintaining the property tax rate at 77 cents for every $100 of property value, includes a 2 percent cost of living raise for all county employees, and will raise the cost of water and some ambulance services.
It also increases appropriations for Robeson Community College by $100,000, COMtech by $40,000, and the Robeson County Public Library system by $50,000.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for the next board meeting on June 17. A copy of the proposed budget will now be available for public review in the clerk’s office of the county administration building on North Elm Street.