PEMBROKE — The board of directors for COMtech on Wednesday reduced the executive director’s hours in a cost-cutting effort aimed at keeping the doors of the financially struggling industrial park open.
Ken Windley, a former Robeson County manager, will now be paid for only 13 hours of work each week, although Windley said he will work about 20 hours in his efforts to recruit new businesses to the park. Windley, who has been COMtech ’s executive director since January 2011, had an annual salary of about $90,000.
According to Ronnie Hunt, the board’s chairman, there is only $30,000 left in COMtech’s current fiscal budget, which ends July 1, to pay Windley. In addition to Windley, COMtech employs an office manager whose salary will remain the same, Hunt said.
Windley made no comments after the meeting, referring all of a reporter’s questions to Hunt.
COMtech, which is located just outside of Pembroke on N.C. 711, began operating in January 2001. The park, consisting of more than 700 acres, is designed to provide homes to technology-focused businesses, industry, educational training facilities and business incubators.
COMtech’s board has been struggling to find ways to overcome a cut in county funding in the fiscal budget that took effect July 1. This fiscal year, according to figures supplied by County Manager Ricky Harris, the county originally budgeted $96,000, adding $18,000 for Hollingsworth, a company that is helping to market COMtech property, and $18,000 for a building loan, bringing the total county allocation for the park to $132,000.
Harris, who also sits on COMtech’s board of directors, also cited figures showing that funding during the past fiscal year was originally $132,000, with additional money allocated later in the year that brought the park’s total funding up to $194,000. Windley had requested $196,000 funding for the current fiscal year.
The county contributed $32,977 to COMtech in 2010 and $145,427 in 2011, according to Harris.
Hunt said after the meeting that the county has been a strong supporter of COMtech.
“The county has supported COMtech since the beginning,” he said. “You have to give the county credit for helping to keep COMtech’s doors open.”
The directors have been discussing possible options that will keep the doors of the industrial park open. Among those being considered are increasing fees charged park tenants to help continue the level of services they are now receiving; reducing the number of hours that the executive director works; eliminating the director’s position and handing over COMtech’s administrative duties to the county’s Industrial Economic Development Commission; and privatizing park administration.
Hunt, however, said that when the board met in closed session Wednesday, members had three choices: cut the executive director’s hours; terminate the executive director; or close COMtech’s doors.
All eight board members who were present voted to reduce the executive director’s hours, Hunt said.
Hunt said that raising fees the park’s 25 tenants already pay for services provided by COMtech was not considered at Wednesday’s meeting. Tenants are offered services that include 24-hour security, window washing, grass cutting, parking lot cleaning and trash pickup.
According to Harris, Windley has informed COMtech board that fees will not cover expenses.
Hunt said that the directors are trying to come up with a plan where all of the park’s tenants are “treated fairly” when it comes to fees they must pay. If all fees currently owed by park tenants were collected, Hunt said, it would go a long way in helping COMtech meet its expenses.
“We’re just not collecting all of the fees that are assessed on all the tenants,” Hunt said.
Hunt blames the sour economy for much of COMtech’s financial problems.
“The economy affects everybody,” he said. “When the economy turns bad businesses, local government and individuals all have to make hard decisions about what to do with their limited resources.”
Hunt said that he does not think businesses will be making decisions about relocation, expansion, or increasing costs until after the Nov. 6 General Election.
The chairman added that if more businesses locate in the park, COMtech’s board of directors could go back and “readdress” the issue of the executive director’s hours.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org