Sharp pencil…..sharper mind

Published 9:10 am Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What secret does Toby Chappell possess that seemingly none of the local area’s senior administrators seem to know?

By far, Toby is the youngest county manager in our neck of the woods. To compare, Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins is old enough to be Toby’s daddy (that’s because Wayne is older than me and I sat behind Moses in my high school history class). Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb could serve as Toby’s older brother, not to mention his financial advisor. Hertford County Manager Loria Williams could fill the role of Toby’s aunt. I don’t actually know Loria’s age….even if I did, I wouldn’t reveal it here (I did learn something from my late mother about telling a woman’s age).

Despite his youthfulness, Toby appears to have a sharp mind when it comes to finances. Sure, he and the Gates County Board of Commissioners took a tongue lashing following the county’s revaluation process a few years back. But now, for the third straight year after the reval process, Gates County’s real property tax rate remains unchanged (64 cents per $100 of valuation). That comes despite the county’s real property losing $100,000 in value.

While Bertie’s tax rate also remains unchanged in Zee’s proposed 2011-12 budget, he did have to dip into the county’s fund balance (to the tune of over one million bucks) to present a balanced financial spreadsheet. Ditto for Hertford County where Loria is moving $1.2 million to balance her pending new budget. Wayne is still tweaking Northampton’s budget, but we do know from a workshop held last week that he’s recommending a big cut ($300,000) for education.

Toby’s proposed 2011-12 budget, which he presented to the commissioners to ponder last week, moves not one single penny from fund balance. Meanwhile, his budget includes a two percent cost-of-living raise for county employees plus as much as a two percent merit raise for that same group.

Funding is present in Toby’s budget to fill two vacant part-time county positions and it doubles the amount currently appropriated to the county’s Emergency Services department.

And, last but not least, his budget includes funds to address long overdue capital projects, including finally fixing a leaky roof on the courthouse and some long-awaited upgrades to the courtroom.

How the youngest of our veteran Roanoke-Chowan county managers managed to pull this off is commendable, especially at a time where most counties in our state are taking drastic measures to overcome huge deficits.

Case-in-point, Jackson County is laying off 17 employees; Warren County needs a 3-cent tax hike and still move $1 million-plus from fund balance to cover their expected expenses; Caswell County can balance their budget without employee raises and postponing all capital improvement projects; New Hanover County faces a $2 million shortfall, one that will be covered by hiking the taxes in fire services districts and increasing the tipping fee at the landfill; and Guilford County’s deficit is a whopping $30 million, one that will possibly be covered by a 6.2-cent tax hike and cutting $6 million for human services.

Thanks to a pretty sharp pencil held by Toby and the fact that the Gates County Commissioners made a commitment three years ago to keep closer eye on spending, the R-C area’s smallest county appears to have made the largest strides financially.

Good job, Toby, and to the commissioners as well. Keep up the good work while you’re still young enough to have the energy to safeguard the county’s finances.

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal