Richmond County employees will be asked to sacrifice again this year as the 2010 to 2011 fiscal year budget will be partially balanced on their backs.
In appreciation for their work, Richmond County employees will get two paid days off as a result of a decision by commissioners meeting Monday afternoon prior to the 6:30 p.m. regular meeting Monday at the County Administration Building, 125 South Hancock Street, Rockingham.
The $44,552,667 balanced budget as presented by County Manager Rick Sago appeared to be accepted for presentation at the public hearing Monday night.
One adjustment to Sago’s presentation was that $2,000 was restored to the Leak Street Cultural and Education Center at the request of Commissioner Peggy Covington. She made the appeal informing the board the program had already been cut through state funding which jeopardized it. Sago said he would adjust an item or items somewhere in the budget to find the money.
County employees for the second year will not receive an overall increase in pay. On top of that, county employees will be asked to accept five furlough days, which amounts to a two percent reduction in a salary.
“This is especially difficult this year because, while last year the inflation rate was approximately zero percent, this past year inflation was around 2.5 percent; therefore our employees are realizing a decrease in purchasing power,” Sago said.
Commissioners by consensus in the afternoon session agreed to give employees their birthday off with pay and the Friday before the Labor Day weekend with pay. Sago said this was a gesture of good will in appreciation for what county employees do.
The furlough days will be July 2, Nov. 24 and Dec. 23 in 2010; and April 25 and May 27 in 2011. These furlough days will save the county more than $225,000.
Merit and longevity pay plans will continue “to reward and retain those employees who mean the most to our citizens,” Sago said.
In addition to salary cuts, the deductible for health insurance for employees will rise from $500 to $1,000 as well as increases in co-pay amounts. Commissioner Thad Ussery said this amounted to a “double whammy” for county employees already not getting raises.
The County Employee Health Clinic operated through the Richmond County Health Department will continue to be available at little or no cost to employees. The county has a self-funded health plan.
Other savings studied
Sago said he would continue to work on insurance savings and is studying an additional plan to adjust plans for employees eligible for Medicare.
Despite the disappointment with their situation, Sago said morale was still high among employees.
Commissioner Pam Dillman suggested the county consider employee Christmas bonuses even if the budget has to be cut elsewhere. With 330 to 350 employees, it could average to be around $34,000 for a $100 bonus. “We need to do something,” she said. “The problem is, we just don’t have the money,” Sago said of the already tight budget.
Ussery was concerned that the public might be upset with county offices being closed on the furlough days. Sago said such days were taken on Fridays which are slower days.
Even with his balanced budget, Sago said the sales tax returns from the state still looked bad. There is a delay of several months in such payments, and the county is never certain how much the state will return. In the past several years - since 2009 - sales tax revenue has decreased some $1.8 million.
Sago said that with the changing economic situation, commissioners can always adjust the budget when necessary to meet changes.
It is anticipated that additional millions of dollars in taxable property in Richmond County will be added in the coming year from the Progress Energy plant south of Hamlet. “This should be significant,” Sago said, depending on how the state values it.
Commission Chairman Kenneth Robinette commended Sago for his budget as presented.