Five Pennies More!

Published 8:33 am Friday, June 24, 2022

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GATESVILLE – Gates County property owners will have to dig a bit deeper in their pockets to pay their taxes for 2022.

After a work session held earlier this month coupled with a long discussion here last week at their regularly scheduled meeting, a majority of the Gates County Board of Commissioners agreed to increase the property tax rate from 79 cents to 84 cents (per $100 of value). That increase becomes effective July 1, which marks the start of the 2022-23 budget year.

Commissioner Jack Owens motioned to approve the budget, which included the tax increase. Commissioner Linda Hofler offered a second and the ensuing vote was 3-2 in favor of the motion. Commissioners Ray Freeman and Jonathan Craddock opposed the budget’s approval, both stating they were not in favor of the total tax increase.

Back in May when County Manager Tim Wilson first presented his budget proposal for FY 22-23, the projected tax increase was two pennies.

Wilson said the need for the two-cent tax increase was two-fold: to cover a proposed 5 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all employees of Gates County local government as well as sustaining two new positions in the Sheriff’s Office and granting raises for most staff members working for the Sheriff. Those new positions and raises were approved by the commissioners in August of last year. That budget amendment ($122,952) was taken from the unassigned fund balance.

Of the two-cent hike, 1.25 cents is needed to sustain the new positions and raises in the Sheriff’s Office while the other 0.75 cent was for the COLA.

At its budget work session on June 8, the commissioners proposed adding one more penny to the tax rate (81 cents to 82 cents) to cover $70,000 requested by the high school for the assistant principal’s position; $9,000 for Gates County’s share of the renovations at the Tri-County Animal Shelter; and $17,000 to increase the COLA from 5.0 to 5.5 percent.

The final two pennies of the tax increase (82 cents to 84 cents) came as part of last week’s commissioners’ meeting where Wilson’s department staffing changes/reorganization was discussed again. That proposal was nixed by the commissioners when Wilson initially presented it in December of last year.

The revised proposal included the following:

Financial Services Department – to be staffed by the Finance Officer along with an Accounts Payable Specialist, an Accounting Specialist, and Information Technology.

A Grant Manager will be added, with the annual salary paid over the first two years from ARP (American Rescue Plan) funding. Past that point, grant administration fees (which can be as high as 25 percent of the total funds received) can be applied to help offset the Grant Manager’s salary.

“That person needs to be under the supervision of the Finance Officer,” Wilson said.

The Customer Service Representative position remains as part of local government. However, that job will shift under the supervision of the Finance Officer.

The Planning and Development department merges the Planning Dept. with the Building Inspections Dept. The position of Building Inspector is currently vacant. Wilson recommends to keep the position, but use the salary budgeted for that job plus an additional $20,000 to create a Planner/GIS Coordinator. Wilson said GIS services are currently contracted out.

The Water and Wastewater departments will merge into Public Utilities, with a Department Director who will carry all certifications in water and wastewater.

There will be a Water Division Manager and a Wastewater Division Manager. Each will carry certification for the operations within their respective division. Both managers will have two Utility Maintenance employees.

Wilson requested adding an administrative assistant to this department.

Wilson said the staff positions within the Public Utilities Department are funded through user fees, not from property taxes. Figuring in the salary of the new position of an administrative assistant plus an increase in the salaries of two existing employees who will take on the duties of division managers, Wilson said that would cost $65,000 annually.

Commissioner Jonathan Craddock said based on 4,300 water customers, it would take a $15.11 annual increase on the bills of those customers to cover the $65,000.

“One thing we had to look at in the water and wastewater departments is that the state reprimanded us for being understaffed there and placed us on their distressed unit list,” noted Commission Chair Dr. Althea Riddick. “We didn’t do what we needed to do there a few years ago. Kicking the can down the road again isn’t going to work this time.”

As for County Administration, Wilson recommended the hiring of an Assistant County Manager and a Human Resources Director. He also recommended moving the Payroll Benefits Specialist from Financial Services to County Administration to work alongside the Human Resources Director.

Additionally, Wilson requested to create the position of executive assistant to the county manager. That position was approved, but not funded when the budget was approved.

Riddick said the hiring of an HR Director is “critical in order for our county manager not having to be tied up all the time in handling personnel.”

Wilson estimated the Assistant County Manager and HR Director will cost $190,000 annually.

The staffing/reorganization plan was approved, again by the same 3-2 vote that was cast for the budget.

Other staffing recommendations contained in the budget include converting a vacant part-time custodian position to full-time; the reinstatement of a part-time Emergency Management assistant position; and the reclassification of an Income Maintenance caseworker to an Adult Protection Social Worker.

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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