NAACP voices concerns

Published 1:51 pm Monday, January 25, 2016

JACKSON – During the citizens’ comments portion of Wednesday night’s Northampton Board of County Commissioners meeting, Tony Burnette, president of the county branch of the NAACP, had a series of follow-up questions from previous meetings.

First, however, he praised the board for holding a night meeting so that citizens can attend after work.

Citizens requested a monthly night meeting three months ago, changing the second monthly meeting from midday to 6 p.m.

The board had a full audience for the inauguration of the new time on Wednesday.

“This gives working people the opportunity to see what county government is doing,” Burnette said.

He had three concerns.

His first was a cost of living raise for county employees. Burnette said the people who do so much for county residents are struggling to make ends meet because of the low salaries they are being paid.

He said he was recently approached by a county employee who has worked for the county for over 16 years. That person has a family to raise, but only makes about $24,000 a year.

“That is at the poverty level,” Burnette said. “That’s why I continue to voice my concern. Our employees and their families need to be paid a decent salary.”

“Do you want quantity or quality,” he asked. “People being paid a fair wage is going to give quality; they’re going to work harder and more diligently for the citizens of Northampton County.”

Chairwoman Fannie Greene responded that while the county employees didn’t get a raise, they did get a generous Christmas bonus last year, double what they got in 2014.

County Manager Kimberly Turner said later that she and the commissioners struggle with the budget every year to give county employees raises, but they have to work within the constraints of the annual budgets.

“We do everything we can with the funds provided by taxpayers,” Turner said.

Burnette said later, “We cannot allow county employees to live in poverty. They deserve cost of living raises.”

At the meeting, Burnette also expressed concern about the $150,000 loan the county provided to the Bay Sire Restaurant and Winery, a private business in Jackson that has recently gone out of business.

Turner said only the restaurant part of business closed, that the owner is up to date on repaying the loan, and that the owner has plans to open a restaurant in Conway.

Greene added that the loan program is from the state.

“It is a revolving loan from the state. This is state money, not county money,” Greene noted.

Turner said the loan program has been advertised in the newspaper and on the county website.

She said later that the loan has been set up for Tier One counties by the state to recruit and retain private businesses to assist with economic development.

“It is the responsibility of the county commissioners to keep businesses here,” Turner said. “Eligible businesses can acquire these loans.”

The county attorney said Northampton County is “fully protected” from any default.

Burnette’s next concern was about “the water situation in Garysburg.”

The water and sewage bills in Garysburg had more than doubled in recent months.

Greene responded that she lives in Garysburg, and is well aware of the water bill situation and said the bills have been decreasing.

The board had taken action to reduce the bills, Greene said, and the Public Works Director has been taking action to also reduce the bills.

She said the board will be looking at further reductions in bills during the upcoming budget planning process.

After the meeting, Turner said the reason water bills increased is because the county changed the rate structure so that the water and sewage program breaks even, as it is designed to do. The program had to be restructured so expenditures and revenues were equal – it is a non-profit program.