LUMBERTON — With four votes in favor, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to hire Robert Conner as the new administrator of the Tax Office.
Commissioners Pauline Campbell, Tom Taylor, Lance Herndon and David Edge voted for Conner. Although they did not raise their hands to vote against the hiring, Commissioners Roger Oxendine, Faline Dial and Raymond Cummings were in opposition.
Conner, a current employee of the Tax Office, and Betsy Cummings, also a current employee, applied for the job, which has a pay range of $69,847 to $108,805. Cummings, the wife of Commissioner Cummings, has been working as the interim supervisor with no increase in pay.
The hiring was not on the agenda, but in his remarks to the board, Edge said he would “like to move forward on the tax collector’s position.” The position has been vacant since August 2018.
Oxendine objected to the hiring, saying Conner lacked certifications required in the job advertisement. County Manager Kellie Blue confirmed that the job posting required certifications. Oxendine said Betsy Cummings holds the training and certifications spelled out in the posted job requirements.
“I think we need to know if we are breaking the law by doing this,” Oxendine said.
Dial implored the commissioners to reconsider.
“This is a serious job, and I hope you are thinking about what’s best for the county,” she said. “We need the very best person for this job.”
Dial said she was a skeptic about hiring the wife of a fellow commissioner, but changed her mind.
Taylor cited prior precedents in allowing new employees to earn certifications on the job. The board took a break to confer with County Attorney Gary Locklear.
“If the board set certifications as a requirement, it can also change the same requirement,” Locklear said. “At some point the person who gets this job will need the certifications.”
After conferring with the attorney, no action was taken, and the vote to hire Connor stood.
In other business, Blue introduced a draft of the 2019-20 budget, which features no proposed tax increase or rate increase for county water. The tax rate is 77 cents for every $100 of property.
Key features of the budget are a renewal of the 1% increase in public school teacher supplements at a cost of $930,000, and the first of four annual payments of $930,000 on 65 new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office.
The county will spend $1.5 million to expand the landfill and improve Dumpster sites. Upgrades to the 911 system and computers with outdated Windows software also are proposed in the budget.
The county is mandated by the state to increase its payment to the North Carolina retirement system for employees from 7.75% of their salary to 8.95%, and from 8.5% to 9.7% for law enforcement personnel.
“This budget is balanced as required by law. It avoids a tax increase at all costs, and it keeps the same level of customer service,” Blue said. “We are self-supporting and not relying on our enterprise funds.”
In reaction to public comments about the county’s reserve funds, Blue said they are not “fluff,” but earmarked for specific reasons.
The Board of Commissioners will continue budget talks at its next meeting on June 3. The budget is expected to be adopted in time to take effect on July 1.
In other action, the board unanimously reappointed Larry McGougan to a six-year term on the Robeson County Library board of trustee. A St. Pauls resident, McGougan currently is serving as chairman of the library board.
The commissioners also approved updated contracts for the Gilbert Patterson Memorial Library in Maxton and the McMillan Memorial Library in Red Springs. According to county library Director Katie Fountain, the contracts have been approved by the county and local library boards.
“The agreements have not been updated since the libraries joined the county system in the ’70s,” Fountain said.
The county commissioners also approved a bid for the cutting of grass for the Robeson County Parks and Recreation Department. Dale Locklear, a county employee, bid $51,500 for the contract.
County Attorney Locklear said his research indicated there was no conflict of interest because Locklear is in a different county department, not a supervisor and will not be working on county time.
The county will write off less than half of the delinquent rent payments to the Robeson County Housing Authority this year compared with 2018. The commissioners agreed to write off $10,655, but wrote off $25,000 this past year.
Commissioner Oxendine got answers to his question of why the county is disposing of a 2014 Dodge Charger with 114,000 miles. Charlie McNair, supervisor of the county garage, said the vehicle needed $9,000 in repairs to its engine and front end.
“A Dodge Charger with 114,000 miles is not worth as much as a Crown Victoria with 250,000 miles,” McNair said. “We are not buying any more Chargers.”
However, the Sheriff’s Office just bought eight Dodge Chargers, 45 Ford Explorers and seven Dodge Ram pick-ups. Oxendine agreed to the sale.
Commissioner Edge reported on the progress of his project to produce an educational video for school children called “Talk Trash.” The purpose is to help children and their parents stop littering in the county.
Edge said a curriculum is being developed, and he has met with school board Chairman Mike Smith.