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Carroll freezes pay, hiring

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County takes measure to cover $1.5 million revenue shortage for 2018-2019 budget

By Ethan Campbell

HILLSVILLE – Due to financial constraints for the upcoming fiscal year, Carroll County approved a resolution earlier this week implementing a hiring and pay freeze for non-law enforcement and non-constitutional officer positions.

The resolution, which passed at the end of a nearly three-hour meeting on March 11, has been put into place as a temporary means of keeping a conservative county budget until details for the upcoming debt policy, reserve funds for other departmental contingencies and collection methods for delinquent taxes are finalized.

The resolution passed on a 4-2 vote following debate among supervisors regarding the most effective means for solving a current revenue shortage totaling $1.5 million for the upcoming 2018-2019 budget. Currently, financial projections for the upcoming fiscal year anticipate a total $43.3 million in revenue collections, which administrators point out is less than the amount of revenue needed to satisfy the total projected $44.8 million in expenditures.

After extensively reviewing departmental budget requests and considering the finances, Board of Supervisors Chairman Rex Hill presented the motion to freeze pay and hiring. Hill explained, reading the proposal’s preface, “Due to financial constraints generated by the county’s current revenue constraints, it is imperative that Carroll County control and reduce costs, typically in the general fund. Carroll Citizens have had to contend with significant debt service, and the next single largest expenditure in our government is personnel costs.”

Hill continued, “In order to ensure that all employees retain their positions, cuts must be made in light of tight fiscal constraints. This hiring and pay freeze intends to minimize and avoid disruptions and layoffs and ease financial conditions. The hiring and pay freezes shall include both full- and part-time positions.”

He concluded, “Whereas the Carroll County Board of Supervisors has determined that our hiring freeze and pay freeze is necessary in a time of severe budgetary concerns, Carroll County Supervisors hereby establishes an indefinite personnel hiring freeze for Carroll County, indefinitely suspends all pay policies for Carroll County, and eliminates the 3 percent proposed cost of living pay increases. Additionally, the Carroll County Board of Supervisors will conduct job task analyses and organizational restructure analyses, and audit to determine — if and any — cost savings through position elimination, reassignment or organizational restructure may then benefit the county’s fiscal position.”

Laurel Fork District Supervisor Joe Neil Webb seconded the motion.

At this time, the floor was turned over to any discussion from supervisors prior to voting.

Dr. Thomas Littrell, Piper Gap District supervisor, spoke up. “As far as I’m concerned, the employees are the most important part of the whole county, and I think this is a little ahead of the game because we don’t have the school board budget and some other things. I’m not saying I’m against it, but I’m not sure this is the time to do it.”

Hill countered, “Well, I think we’ve had several positions put in for additional funding in this budget, that’s what costs you.”

At this time, County Administrator Steve Truitt asked for clarification as to whether the resolution pertained to locally funded positions in state constitutional offices, such as the treasurer.

Hill affirmed that the resolution would not affect state pay increases, but that it would pertain to positions that are fully funded by the county.

County Attorney Steve Durbin advised that Hill withdraw the motion and present it again with the clarification, “that if a position is funded within a constitutional office, but funded by local county funds, it is subject to the motion.”

Webb again seconded the motion.

Pine Creek Supervisor Bob Martin also spoke up, highlighting his concerns for any effect that the motion would have on school employees.

According to Assistant County Administrator Nikki Cannon, school employees are expected to receive a 5 percent pay increase, and Hill stated that it is possible that the county may be responsible for a 2 percent increase for school employees.

Hill continued, “Well, this helps the budget process. It takes out several items. We still have to address other items, included the CIP (capital improvement plan).”

Webb spoke up once again, “I’d like to explain my viewpoint on this. What was proposed to us at our last budget hearing, the proposed budget that we are facing was a huge increase of what we spent in this budget. Somebody did the math there at the meeting and said, ‘Well, we can cover this proposed budget by putting 8 more cents on [the real estate tax rate].’ Nobody sitting here is in favor of doing that. We still don’t have the school’s budget. I was in agreement to this as a starting point that we can start looking at each category that we are funding with taxpayer money.”

He continued, “This is not going to be something that’s forever, and I hope we can get turned around and get our head back above water. We are $104 million in debt, with an annual budget of $42 million. We’ve got to do something. We cannot keep making the budget bigger and bigger every year. It’s not ethical, its not reasonable. I mean, we can, but the next thing you know we’re going to be up paying $1 per $100 [value] on real estate to try to cover what we keep adding on year after year. “

Webb concluded, “I think this is a great idea, it’s a great starting point, and its going to give us more information about looking at each individual department that uses county funds, and make sure that money is being spent wisely.

“Is it necessary to have that many employees for each department? Talking about this analysis, we don’t know what [county departments] are doing with [county funds]. Their budgets say, and they say, but we want to see it. We want to see that [county departments] need this county money. We want these departments to prove to us that these budgets that they are throwing out here in front of us is necessary, or can we back up a little bit until we get our eyes out of the water? That’s just my opinion.”

At-Large Supervisor Robbie McCraw also spoke up. “I’d would like to see departments’ [budgets] presented at least quarterly to us, and explain to us what they are doing, and where they are at. The bleeding has got to stop somewhere.”

Hill agreed, “I was totally shocked with the budget that was presented. I did not sleep that night. I stayed up looking and researching everything I could possibly think about this county. We’ve got to a point where we were breaking even this last year.”

Hill pointed out that since 2013, according to revenue charts, expenditures were well above revenue. “As he said, the bleeding’s got to stop. This is the first step.”

Supervisors Webb, Phillip McCraw, Hill and Robbie McCraw all voted in favor of the motion, while Littrell and Martin voted against.