Board balks at DA proposal

Published 12:12 pm Tuesday, August 9, 2011

WINTON – Hertford County local government will not participate in a contract that proposes the county pay one-third of the costs associated with funding a position in the District Attorney’s office recently cut by the state.

However, county government officials did leave the door slightly open, saying they would study another plan if the current contract was adjusted.

Local 6B District Attorney Valerie Asbell pitched the proposal to the Hertford County Commissioners during a meeting in June. The deal would be between the three counties in Judicial District 6B (Bertie, Hertford and Northampton). If each approved the contact, the money, totaling nearly $55,000 annually, would be used to fund the Victim/Witness Legal Assistant in Asbell’s office left vacant by state budget cuts.

Bertie has executed the contract to participate with the stipulation that all three counties take part in the split agreement. Northampton County approved a one-time appropriation of the dollar amount requested; they did not execute the contract.

“That causes some concern for me,” Hertford County Manager Loria Williams said in regards to Northampton’s decision. ‘They didn’t execute the contract because they would not agree on accepting the liability of providing worker’s compensation, insurance and all those things that go along with the terms of employment. That kind of muddies the water of the request.”

“What concerns me is we cut our employees, our departments; we didn’t add any new computers and we cut travel,” Commissioner Howard Hunter III observed. “Then I look at the appendix of items in this contract with the DA and I see all these items they want us to take care of….that’s my concern over this.”

Hunter was referencing that the three counties were asked, according to the projected costs in the contract, to pay for office supplies ($730), postage ($485), conference/training registration fees ($100), computer/software/support services ($903), phone line ($285), data connectivity ($225), telecommunications maintenance agreements ($225), mileage ($3,507), lodging ($225) and meals ($109).

The total cost – which includes a $35,000 annual salary, $2,678 for Social Security, $4,767 for Retirement and $5,500 for Health Insurance – is $54,721. If all three counties agree to the proposal, each would pay a one-third share ($18,240.33).

“I do have the same concern as Commissioner Hunter; they have travel, a computer, telephone, postage….all kinds of office supplies,” Commission Chairman Johnnie Ray Farmer stated. “I thought this was only about salary and the normal benefits that go along with that.”

“Where will we be standing as far as paying for an outside entity,” asked Commission Vice Chairman Curtis Freeman.

“We already pay the rent on their building,” Hunter observed.

“I shared that information with Bertie as well as Northampton; that doesn’t need to go unnoticed,” Williams said. “We currently pay $36,000 annually for office space for the DA and neither Bertie nor Northampton participates in that cost. We’re doing our part, more than our fair share, to support the District Attorney.”

After a bit of math on Hunter’s part, it was made known that if the contract did not include all the perks (office supplies, computer, travel, etc.) the cost would be reduced to slightly less than $16,000 per county.

“We could do the same thing as Northampton County….authorize the money but not execute the contract,” Farmer suggested. “That would meet our intended goal and put the ball back in the DA’s court.”

“I don’t know what the (North Carolina) Administration of the Courts will accept,” Williams noted. “The DA does not have anything locally other than what’s in this contract for the employment of personnel in her office. You just can’t have salary, you have to have workers comp and unemployment insurance, they are state and federal requirements. This is the same type contract the Administration of the Courts has in place for these types of arrangements. There’s no employment without a contract. That contract is requesting that you pay all direct and indirect costs.”

Williams warned that this was not a short-term contract.

“It isn’t presented in that fashion; it doesn’t read like one; it isn’t written like one,” she said.

“We all can appreciate good faith effort that our wonderful District Attorney made when she came before us earlier and made this request,” Commissioner Bill Mitchell said. “I would like to think I had a boss that would go in front of the commissioners and make the same plea she did in order to keep her staff intact. However, listening to all the comments made here this morning, I offer a motion that we do not fund this position.”

“I’ll second it on the way this contract is currently written,” Freeman stated.

The motion to deny the contract as presented was approved without objection, but it was mentioned that the board could re-visit this contract if presented in a different way.

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.

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