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N’hampton studies furlough plan

JACKSON — “It might get a little hot in here.”

With that said, Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins took his seat for a second budget work session after turning on the air conditioning in the Board of Commissioners room.

During the Monday budget session held during a recess of the commissioners’ regular meeting, Jenkins presented a “bare boned,” yet, balanced budget to the commissioners that also spared the tax rate from rising. The budget as well spares the county’s fund balance with no appropriation required.

However, the budget comes with a price as county officials are looking at the possibility of five-day furloughs for county employees and cutbacks on contributions, including those to Northampton County Schools and Lake Gaston Weed Council.

“There is some pain, but the pain has been shared,” said Jenkins to the Board about the budget.

In their last budget session the commissioners were faced with a $2.1 million short fall which could have equated to a 12 and one-half percent tax increase, raising the county’s tax rate from 78 cents to 91 cents.

Reasons for the short fall are in part to a 17 percent health insurance increase as well as expenditures exceeding revenue.

At that work session, the commissioners directed Jenkins along with Finance Officer Dot Vick to work with departments in cutting their operating budgets by three percent, remove all travel and training that is not mandatory or certified, remove all conferences and seminars and remove funding for vacant positions.

At their Monday budget work session, Jenkins presented a $22,686,402 operating budget for 2009-10 fiscal year, $452,944 less than the previous year’s budget.

The budget includes possible five-day employee furloughs (unpaid leave), which, depending on forthcoming funds, could begin in January 2010. The furloughs would save the county $108,750.

Jenkins said there are two pots of money that if it is received by the county before June 30 (the end of the current fiscal year), the county would not have to furlough its employees.

“A salary reduction (for employees) is what it equates to,” said Jenkins about the possible furloughs. “It’s painful…very painful.”

Jenkins said if the furloughs were needed to be put forth, it would not begin until January 2010 and end June 30 of the same year. Employees could make up the furloughs through an employee merit increase.

“If we wait until January would it be more painful,” asked Commission Vice Chair Fannie Greene.

Jenkins said if the furloughs began in July and additional funding came in, then employees would have been penalized for four months for nothing.

Items that did not make it into the budget include a cost of living increase for employees, a mileage rate increase (the rate will remain at 48 cents per mile) and two courthouse security officers.

The $116,000 county contribution for the Lake Gaston Weed Council was also taken out of the budget.

Northampton County Schools saw a $75,000 cut from their capital outlay and funding for the Northampton County High School-East Electric Vehicle Rally in the amount of $2,500 was also cut.

In all, $143,260 in county contributions was reduced from the budget.

Commission Chair Robert Carter called the budget one of the most painful he had seen with the idea of employees taking a pay cut.

Commissioner Virginia Spruill asked Jenkins if this was the first year the county did not need to appropriate from the fund balance.

Jenkins said yes it was.

“This is about the barest bone budget I have seen since I’ve been on this board,” Spruill later said. “Everyone has been hit by this budget and it’s bleeding all over the place.”

Jenkins recommended to the commissioners to set a public hearing time and date for the budget message and then wait to make their decision on June 30 in order to give Vick additional time to wait for the additional funds.

The commissioners agreed to place employee furloughs as a priority to modify.

The commissioners commended Jenkins, Vick and all of the department heads for working on the budget.

A public hearing for the budget was set for Monday, June 1 at 11 a.m.