Tip of the hat to our county managers

Published 9:24 am Tuesday, June 9, 2009

They are often the target of verbal attacks.

Perhaps on more occasions than we would think, they have their nights and weekends interrupted by telephone calls…some requiring them to leave home to address a problem.

In essence, their jobs are 24-7, 365 days a year.

They are not doctors, lawyers, accountants or emergency response administrators, but in reality their job requires them to fill the role of all those professional careers.

They are our county managers…in the Roanoke-Chowan area’s case, three men and one woman whose respective jobs come at a bargain basement price when compared to the work they perform on a daily basis.

The job of a county manager isn’t one of fame or fortune. Even though they are the people in charge of running a county on a daily basis, keep in mind that they work without a safety net. As is the case with most county managers across our state, they work at the whim of the county’s board of commissioners. All it takes is a majority vote at a commissioners’ meeting to relieve the manager of his or her duties. No fanfare; no retirement party…just turn in your keys and don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.

County managers are always in the spotlight at this time of the year. The month of June is when the budget is finalized for the upcoming fiscal year, one that always begins on July 1.

That spotlight is shining particularly bright in 2009. Stuck in the midst of a recession, all government leaders – local, state and federal – are looking for ways to maintain critical services to the citizens while watching the bottom line on the financial spreadsheet.

In North Carolina, unfunded mandates are continually spreading from Raleigh out to each of the 100 counties as state officials are fighting to remain afloat, bogged down by a $3 billion deficit. In my humbled opinion, that deficit is linked to uncontrolled spending by the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

That financial mess at the state level is coming home to roost in each county seat. Our county managers are forced to balance their budgets without the usual assortment of state aid, including ADM (Average Daily Membership) money that helps to pay for education. Thusly, public education officials throughout the state are begging for additional funding from the county level to fill that void.

Meanwhile, due to the ongoing recession, the sales tax revenue counties use to balance their budgets is down dramatically. On top of that, the state is changing the sales tax revenue formula by placing a greater emphasis on point of sale rather than per capita. That hurts the smaller, more rural counties (like us) who are not blessed with a shopping center on every corner.

For our county managers to absorb all these drastic cuts and still present a balanced budget using the current property tax rates (or in Gates County’s case, a lower rate due to revaluation), they should be commended, not ridiculed, for their efforts. Sure, some had to make tough decisions when it comes to county-provided services, but my hat is off to each manager for looking out for the good of all the people rather than a select few.

Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be contacted at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.