LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday rejected a recommendation that they be included with other county employees in receiving a 5 percent pay increase.
The commissioners, without comment, unanimously passed a $149 million budget for fiscal year 2015-16 without including themselves in the second phase of a pay and classification plan for county employees.
County Manager Ricky Harris had recommended the commissioners be included in the second phase of the plan that this year resulted in employee salaries jumping an average of 5 percent. According to Harris, the same average increase for the county’s 1,100-member workforce is expected when the second phase of the plan is implemented on July 1.
The county commissioners each earn $15,237 a year and Chairman Noah Woods’ salary is $18,798. The commissioners are among the highest paid in the state when their $700 monthly stipend is included, and The Robesonian has been unable to find another county with similar to or better benefits than they receive.
Jimmy Gilchrist, chairman of the county’s chapter of the Black Caucus, spoke during a public hearing on the budget.
“The county employees work hard and the citizens want to see them get a pay increase,” Gilchrist said. “But based on the money a commissioner can make, they don’t need a raise. Many citizens can’t understand how the commissioners can be at the top while the people in the county are suffering.”
In addition to holding the property rate at 77 cents for each $100 of property value, the budget includes no new positions.
The budget includes no new major capital projects except for the start up of a $1.2 million to $1.5 million osmosis leachate treatment system to be installed at the county’s landfill in St. Pauls. During the next year there are plans for the addition of waterlines and water tanks to serve Mountaire Farms in Lumber Bridge and Campbell Soup in Maxton; a second generator will be located at the county landfill; a one-stop payment center for water customers will open on Caton Road; an on-line system for payment of water bills will be introduced; and a GPS tracking system for all ambulances will be implemented.
Most special appropriations will remain the same as the current year, with only slight increases made to some, including the Robeson County Humane Society, the Fairmont Farmers Festival, and the Folks Arts Festival in St. Pauls.
The Rev. Robert Davis and Jim Tripp, both of Lumberton, asked the commissioners to make county residents more aware that annual budget proposals are available for public review in the county’s manager office before the final public hearing.
“People need the opportunity to see the line items so they can evaluate the budget and come forward with their questions,” Davis said.
Harris commended Finance Officer Kellie Blue and her staff for their hard work in putting together a budget that keeps the county’s property tax rate stable and still provides services to county residents.
“We have a fabulous staff who worked on this budget,” Harris said. “I think we have a good budget.”
In other business, the commissioners on Monday:
— Approved a resolution supporting Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed $2.85 billion bond referendum for infrastructure investment to support transportation, public health, education, technology, parks, ports and military operations. The proposal includes $10 million for West Hall improvements at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, as well as dedicated funds for improving Lumber River State Park and Interstate 95 in Robeson County.
— Tabled a public hearing on a proposed county firearms ordinance until the board’s July meeting.
— Reappointed Tina Jones and Ruby Smith to the Pembroke Planning Board.
— Reappointed Theresa Mitchell, Cheryl Powell and Paul Graham to the board of directors of the Robeson County Public Library.
— Agreed to help provide temporary funding assistance as needed to the Southeastern Re-entry Program — a program that helps released inmates from Robeson, Hoke and Scotland counties obtain such things as housing and jobs — until the state budget is approved and expenses for the program can be reimbursed.
— Approved Dial Insurance as the county’s property insurance carrier. The county previously obtained insurance through the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. Charles Britt, the county’s general services manager, said that Dial Insurance will save the county about $100,000 annually in premiums.
— Accepted the Home and Community Care Block Grant for Older Adults. The grant is administered through the Lumber River Council of Governments.
— Passed a resolution honoring Minnie Lee Thompson Baker, of Fairmont, for being an “exceptional and inspirational member of the education community in Robeson County for 35 years.” According to the resolution, Baker will be honored in Fairmont on June 28.