County keeps tax rate, provides pay hike

By Bob Shiles -
Tommy Lowry -

LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday adopted a budget that keeps the tax rate, bumps some fees, and provides almost $1 million to increase local supplements paid teachers.

The board also adopted a resolution honoring a “home-grown” educator for 38.5 years of service, something the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County balked at doing last week.

Following a public hearing during which no one spoke, the commissioners unanimously voted to adopt the $149 million budget for the fiscal year 2017-18 that begins July 1.

Under the new budget, the county’s property tax rate will remain at 77 cents for every $100 of property value, although fees for water and solid waste disposal will increase, according to Kelli Blue, assistant manager. She said the base rate for residential water customers will increase by $2; landfill tipping fees for county residents will jump from $29.50 to $32.50 per ton; and tipping fees for waste coming to the landfill in St. Pauls from out of the county will increase from $39.50 to $49.50 per ton.

Blue also said that fire marshal inspection fees are jumping from $50 to $60.

Under the new plan, county employees will see up to a 1 percent pay hike in what Blue said amounts to a cost of living increase. All employees will receive a .05 percent increase, with those having worked for the county more than one year receiving an additional .05 percent increase as part of the county’s pay plan adjustment, Blue said.

County employees will continue to pay nothing for health insurance for an individual policy, but they are require to contribute to a family plan.

“We’re still still looking at rising health costs,” Blue said. “We’re still tweaking plans to handle this.”

The budget includes a $930,000 appropriation to the Public Schools of Robeson County that is intended to help increase the local supplement paid to school teachers from 5 to 6 percent. Robeson Community College is getting a special appropriation of $300,000, up from $100,000, to help with capital projects, and the Robeson County Library is getting an increase of $10,000 over this year’s allocation.

The salary paid commissioners will remain the same, as will their discretionary funds, which are $30,000 for each.

The commissioners commended County Manager Ricky Harris, Blue and county department heads and finance staff for coming up with a budget that is tight but workable.

“You did a tremendous job,” said Commissioner Berlester Campbell . “We don’t have to charge more taxes and our employees are seeing a salary increase.”

Chairman Tom Taylor echoed Campbell’s comments.

“The staff did a really good job,” he said. “Department heads did everything they could to keep expenses down.”

The commissioners as part of the consent agenda passed a resolution honoring Tommy Lowry, schools superintendent until Jan. 10 when a split school board voted to buy out his contract. Any commissioner could have requested the resolution be pulled from the consent agenda and discussed and acted on separately.

The Pembroke Kiwanis Club, which asked the county to pass a resolution, plans to honor Lowry on July 8 during a 5-K race it sponsors as part of Lumbee Homecoming.

Commissioner Raymond Cummings, who works for the school system, said after the meeting that the resolution “acknowledges” Lowry’s more than 38 years of service to the county schools.

“He’s very deserving of it,” Cummings said.

The resolution states numerous accomplishments of Lowry over his years as a teacher, assistant principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent.

“As an assistant superintendent Mr. Lowry was instrumental in procuring millions of dollars for the Public Schools of Robeson County, and … during his tenure (as superintendent) Mr. Lowry devoted his time, energy and talent to the school system, serving with unfailing integrity, dignity and his career serves as a positive example to all who serve in public education,” the resolution states.

The resolution specifically praises Lowry for his leadership “through heroic efforts following the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.” He is recognized for providing school buses to evacuate victims from flooded neighborhoods throughout Lumberton; guiding the child nutrition staff in distributing food from schools to shelters to feed thousands of evacuees for weeks after the hurricane; and leading relocation efforts for displaced students and staff from West Lumberton Elementary School to Lumberton Junior High School.

In other business, the commissioners on Monday:

— Named Carla Kinlaw, the county’s assistant finance director, as the interim finance director. Kinlaw replaces Blue, who was recently promoted to an assistant county manager.

—Recognized the Southeast Area Transit System for service during Hurricane Matthew. The transit system recently was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the North Carolina Department of Transportation for “Outstanding contributions and service in hurricane Matthew Assistance.”

— Reappointed Derrick Coe to the Robeson County Department of Social Services board of directors.

Tommy Lowry Lowry
Newly approved plan bumps some fees, funds supplement boost

By Bob Shiles

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.