LUMBERTON — Tony Normand, the developer and first executive director of COMtech, has been authorized by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners to do a study of that board’s pay, benefits and discretionary funds and make recommendations for potential change.
The board, according to Normand, is not obligated to enact his recommendations.
“I want this to be fair, thorough and complete,” said Normand, who lives in Alabama and contends he has “no personal or financial interest” in the outcome of his study. Normand said he would not be compensated except for some expenses.
“This helps ensure neutrality, fairness and avoids any charges of personal benefit regardless of the findings or recommendations,” he said.
Normand, whose background includes experience in polling and assessment of public opinion, said he will use such resources as the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, Bureau of Labor Statistics, The University of North Carolina School of Government, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Robeson Community College, community organizations and businesses.
Normand told The Robesonian last week that he had been working on the project for about three weeks and had interviewed 92 people of all races and ages, male and female, many of them just members of the public. He said gathering information will take at least another two weeks.
“It doesn’t make a scientific study … but I believe it is a very good reflection of opinions across the county,” Normand said.
Questions about the commissioners’ pay, benefits and discretionary funds surfaced after a series of stories by The Robesonian last year showed the commissioners are among the best-paid in the state, have benefits that other commissioners don’t enjoy and discretionary funds that are unique in North Carolina in their size and how they are distributed.
County Manager Ricky Harris last year presented the commissioners the results of an in-house study of their pay, benefits and discretionary funds that has not been made public; Harris has said publicly that his findings were in line with what The Robesonian reported.
Normand said the commissioners “want to do the right thing,” but feel they have not been treated fairly by The Robesonian.
“They are good guys, but change is difficult,” Normand said. “There has to be five votes to get a consensus on anything, and that is not always easy.”
Normand did not say what his recommendations would be, but offered the following observations:
— The salary and benefits of the commissioners are being unfairly compared with those of commissioners in smaller and larger counties.
“It’s unfair to compare just the salaries of a certain office or job title,” Normand said. “As an example, you have to take into consideration the population and size of a county. The responsibilities of two people with the same title may not be the same. One may work more than the other.”
— Most of the commissioners might actually be losing money with their $700-a-month stipend because of the size of the county and the distances required to do county busienss. He said the $700 a month is taxable, so when taxes are taken out the commissioners are only making about $560 a month.
— The commissioners spend more than 40 hours a week doing county business.
“Just answering the phone calls they get from constituents takes an enormous amount of time,” he said. “I’m convinced from my own observations that they receive at least 30 calls a day.”
Harris and Commissioner Noah Woods, the board’s chairman, have said the commissioners will review their pay, benefits and discretionary funds during the preparation of the budget that becomes effective July 1.
Harris said he will present his budget proposal to the commissioners during their May 20 meeting. Work sessions will then be scheduled.
The commissioners’ next meeting is Monday. At that meeting, they will:
— Hear a summary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s 2012-13 Secondary Road Construction Programfrom Chuck Miller, the district engineer.
— Hold a public hearing on an ordinance regulating collection and disposal of solid waste generated within the county.
— Hear a presentation on the Interstate 95 Economic Study from Kristine O’Connor of the state DOT’s Priority Projects Office.
— Hear a presentation from Everett Davis concerning the Lumber River Day Festival.
— Consider approving a resolution asking the state not to close the minimum-security prison on N.C. 711.
— Consider appointments to the Robeson Community College board of trustees and the Eastpointe board of directors.
Also on Monday, the company recently denied a conditional-use permit it needs to establish a solar farm just outside Rowland will appeal that decision to the Board of Adjustments at 5 p.m. in the commissioners’ room.
The appeal is being made by Carolina Solar Energy of Durham, which wants to establish a solar farm on about 35 acres of a 64-acre tract of land in a Residential-Agricultural zone on N.C. 130.