LUMBERTON — The county Board of Commissioners on Monday accepted without comment a study on their pay and benefits that was compiled by County Manager Ricky Harris.
“I am presenting the information I was requested to gather by the commissioners,” Harris said, “but I am making no recommendations unless the commissioners ask me to. Any recommendations or actions taken on the results of the study are up to the commissioners.”
Harris, in compiling the information, looked at similar counties, including those contiguous to Robeson County, to see how commissioners are compensated. The Robesonian reviewed the information and found it was essentially the same the newspaper has used in a series of stories about how the commissioners are paid, their benefits and their discretionary fund.
Commissioner Jerry Stephens made the motion to accept the manager’s report, with his motion being seconded by Commissioner Tom Taylor.
Noah Woods, the board’s chairman, said that the commissioners will “move forward” with a review of the study. He did not set a time period for when the issues in the study will be reviewed or when commissioners might act on any changes.
“I’m sure the board will discuss and study this carefully,” Woods said after the meeting.
On Sept. 4, the county commissioners unanimously voted in favor of a resolution presented by Taylor that called for Harris to do the survey.
The Robesonian has found that the commissioners are the fourth-highest paid in the state when salary and a $700 monthly travel stipend, the highest in the state, are combined. Each commissioner also receives $40,000 a year in discretionary fund, money that is distributed without a vote of the full board; both the commissioners and their families receive free health insurance; and the commissioners have a 457 retirement plan for which the county matches 4 percent of their salaries.
The commissioners on Oct. 1 voted to end a deferred-compensation plan that allowed them to continue drawing a portion of their salary after they left office.
Harris, in his study, used the same statistics as The Robesonian — information provided by the University of North Carolina School of Government.
“The results are basically the same as you found,” Harris told a reporter for The Robesonian after the meeting.
According to the report, out of 90 of the state’s 100 counties that provided information, Robeson ranks 19th in population with 135,000, and its chairman of the Board of Commissioners ranks 13th in salary ($17,829) and commissioners 16th in salaries ($13,627). In adjoining counties: Hoke: population 46,000, chairman, $7,840,; commissioner $7,063, Scotland: population 36,000, chairman, $9,636, commissioner, $6,276; Cumberland: population 319,000, chairman, $27,355, commissioner, $20,492; Bladen, population, 35,190,; chairman $9,026, commissioner, $8,089; Columbus, population 58,000, chairman, $16,234, commissioner $13,361.
The report states that in Lumberton, with a population of 22,000, the mayor is receiving $13,216 a year plus health benefits and councilmen are making $11,719 plus health benefits.
Harris also found that Robeson’s $700 monthly travel stipend is the highest in the state. He noted, however, that Cumberland County pays its chairman $700 a month travel and the commissioners get $600 a month travel. Ten counties pay over $500 a month and some pay on a per-meeting basis, Harris said.
The report says that only Lumberton and Robeson County have discretionary funds available, and of the six counties contiguous to Robeson — Hoke, Scotland, Cumberland, Richmond, Bladen and Columbus — all offer health insurance for the commissioners that are the same as county employees receive. None of those offered free health insurance to the family of a commissioner.
Harris’ report did not include information on retirement, but The Robesonian was unable to find another county that offered its commissioners retirement. Harris said this morning that he found some counties that did offer retirement, and some that didn’t, and said he did not include the information in the report because it was no comprehensive.
During Monday’s public comment period, Katherine Floyd, the county’s former animal cruelty investigator, publicly chastised The Robesonian for repeatedly calling for the commissioners to review their benefits and perks.
“These are good people. They don’t deserve to be attacked this way,” she said. “I’m tired of every day reading all of the negative stories in the newspaper.”
In other business, the commissioners unanimously approved a resolution of support for naming the bridge to be built as part of a reconfiguration of Exit 22, the intersection of Interstate 95 and U.S. 301, for Jeremiah Goodson, a Lumberton police officer who was shot and killed on July 17.
Stig Larson, a Fayetteville police officer, requested the resolution as part of his efforts to gain community support for naming the bridge for Goodson, a decision that will be made by the state Department of Transportation.
Also on Monday, the commissioners:
— Approved the proposed 2013-14 Community Transportation Program Application that must be submitted to the state Department of Transportation no later than Dec. 28. The total funding request for the year is $247,537, with a local share of the cost being $34,754. Services available in Robeson County under this program are provided by the South East Area Transit System.
— Approved the adoption of a state Department of Transportation plan for the town of Pembroke. The town’s plan had to be approved by the commissioners because some of the recommendations will extend into the county.