Stipend denied

Published 8:45 am Thursday, March 26, 2015

GATESVILLE – If you are going to pay one group of volunteers, why not pay all?

That consideration led to a motion being defeated here earlier this month when the issue of paying a meeting/visit stipend to the members of the Gates County Nursing Home Advisory Committee was discussed at length by the county commissioners.

The issue again came to the attention of the commissioners at their March meeting. It had been previously discussed at which time the commissioners instructed County Manager Natalie Rountree to inquire on how other counties handled providing compensation for boards and committees appointed by the commissioners.

Rountree said she sent out surveys to nearby counties and of those responding, only one (Chowan) provides a stipend to members of that committee (paying $20 per meeting).

“As the (state) General Statute points out, we can’t pay compensation, but we can pay for the expenses (incurred by commissioner appointed boards),” said Commissioner Henry Jordan. “Obviously, travel to a meeting is an expense.”

Jordan went on to add that members of the Nursing Home Advisory Committee meet monthly and they also generally make visits to nursing homes in the county at least once a week.

“I do feel that a stipend for one meeting a month and one (nursing home) visit per week would certainly take care some of the expense they incur,” Jordan stated.

He suggested $10 per monthly meeting and $10 per visit.

“If they make four visits and attend one meeting, you’re talking about $50 per month,” Jordan assumed. “If we did that, they (committee members) would need to sign a voucher each month that they did attend the meeting and did visit the nursing homes, once per week during the month.”

Jordan placed his suggestion in the form of a motion.

However, during discussion, the other commissioners took a stance that it was not right to pay one certain appointed committee and not all.

Commissioner Ray Freeman III inquired as to the number of individuals serving on this particular committee, to which he was told five.

That was followed by a question from Commissioner Billy Felton as to the total number of advisory boards appointed by the county leaders.

“There’s over 30,” said Rountree. “Now we pay the Planning Board, because they go out and inspect sites, and the Board of Adjustments.”

She said members of the Board of Adjustments were paid a $50 stipend per meeting and they meet once a month.

“What are we going to do about the other committees that currently do not receive a stipend, are we going to pay them too,” asked Felton.

“(Of the counties surveyed), I heard from one that does not pay any of their boards/committees,” Rountree remarked.

“The Planning Board and Board of Adjustments are driven by the (state) General Statutes,” noted Jordan. “So is the Nursing Home Advisory Committee. We have to fill these boards. We need people to fill these boards, these obligations. I serve on some committees where there is no compensation. You do it because it’s a cause you want to be a part of.”

Jordan still feels it’s due to the visitation requirements of the Nursing Home Advisory Committee that they need to be reimbursed for their travel.

“What about the others not paid, do we need a criteria that dictates whether we pay them or not; or is it General Statute driven,” asked Commission Vice Chairman Jack Owens.

“The General Statute states what you can do for these committees,” said Jordan. “I think this should be General Statute driven, to make provisions to reimburse expenses through a stipend.”

“Currently we not giving this committee a stipend, so clearly we can go forward and not pay a stipend,” Owens pointed out. “What I would recommend is that the committees we appoint that are required under General Statutes be the first consideration that they are even considered to receive a stipend. But just because it’s required of us to appoint committees based on General Stature requirements, that doesn’t automatically qualify them for a stipend. What I would like us to consider is to take each of these committees on their own merits….what’s involved, how many times they meet.”

“I think we’re opening up a Pandora’s Box here,” Felton stressed. “These people volunteer for these committees. When you start paying them they are no longer volunteers.”

“We’re not paying them; this is a payment for the travel involved in carrying out their duties,” countered Jordan. “When there is a nursing home facility in your county, we, as the board of commissioners, are required to provide a Nursing Home Advisory Committee.”

“We need to be clear with the rational of this issue since we do have other boards and committees (that are not paid),” said Commission Chair Linda Hofler. “The second thing is, if we go forward with this, is if you attend the meeting, you get x amount of dollars; the rest coming for the visits. There might be a month where a person attends a meeting and for some reason, they may be sick, did not make the nursing home visits.”

“Do we need to see a chart of all 30 of these committees and see what the potential is,” asked Owens.

“Whatever we do, we would have to wait until a new budget year to start with paying a stipend since it’s not a budget line item as of now,” Hofler noted. “That gives us some time to think about it.”

“It would be appropriate to start it with the start of the new fiscal year (July 1),” said Jordan. “I don’t see this where we’re not fairly treating our other committees. There is justification for paying a stipend to the Nursing Home Advisory Committee. If they don’t meet, if they are not performing, we have to answer to that. The Albemarle Commission can come to the county and advise us that the committee is not performing. I feel like we need to reimburse them for their expenses. If another committee came and made their case, we’ll listen to their merits.”

Jordan then updated his motion to include if a stipend is paid to the Nursing Home Advisory Committee, that it will not begin until July 1 with a maximum amount of $50 per member per month.

“I’d like to make one statement before we vote and explain why I’m going to vote no,” said Felton. “I’m voting no because I do not want to be the one that a county citizen comes up to and says why did I vote to pay one committee when that person (speaking to me) serves on four committees and does not receive any sort of payment.”

Jordan’s motion was defeated 3-2 with Freeman and Hofler joining Felton in voting no.

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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