Unanswered question

Published 9:03 am Thursday, February 17, 2011

No matter how you choose to spin it – and from the noticeable lack of formal response from Bertie County local government officials, it appears even they are shying away from a coating of sugar – approving a 42 percent pay increase for a top level administrator is, at best, unadvisable, given the current economy.

Even the meeting-level response that the raise was given to Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb in September of 2009 is an extremely weak reaction to public outcry. By all accounts, the national economy began its downward trend in the fall of 2008. Sure, it took some time for the recession to reach rural northeastern North Carolina, but everyone, at least we hope that everyone, knew it was on the way.

It is also contended that Lamb’s salary hike can be linked to his hard work to protect the county’s financial coffers and the fact he has not suggested, nor have the Bertie citizens endured, a property tax increase for nine consecutive years.

We do not question Lamb’s ability to perform the day-by-day tasks of managing a county, one with a current operating budget of $20.66 million. What we find as odd is the timing of any governmental pay increase, much less a 42 percent hike, in this economy, one with unemployment numbers still running far above average; home foreclosures at an all-time high; private businesses either making drastic cuts or shutting their doors all together; and families struggling to make ends meet.

It must be noted that Zee Lamb, who now makes $144,000 annually plus another $9,000 a year for travel, didn’t make himself the second highest paid county manager in northeastern North Carolina (only trailing Dare County – $239,794). That increase (from the previous salary of $101,725) was granted by a majority vote of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners.

We can’t begin to imagine what prompted that decision. We can only ask what justified such a large increase, especially considering that Lamb’s previous pay hikes since 2002 were less than $4,000 annually (most years between $2,000-to-$3,000).

To date, we have not received an answer.

– The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald