WINDSOR – Bertie County Commissioners held a public hearing Monday night for the proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
During the presentation, Bertie County Director Juan Vaughan, II., Said there had been several working sessions to review the budget and several changes had been made.
“The updated proposed budget does not include an increase in the tax rate. It includes a one percent cost of living adjustment. One percent is better than not percent, ”he added.
Item adjustments were made to emergency services, 9-1-1 and the sheriff’s office.
“Some cuts were made to make the budget work,” Vaughan continued.
Bertie County received $ 1.8 million from the US bailout.
According to Vaughan, some of this funding is proposed to be used for salary expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The amount to be used is approximately $ 411,000.
“We are proposing to offer bonuses of $ 1,500 to all employees in Bertie County for their dedication and service during COVID-19. That leaves about $ 1 million for the next fiscal year, ”Vaughan said.
The remaining funds would be used for other projects, including updates to the animal control shelter, new voting machines for the Bertie County Electoral Council and new software.
Vaughan said it was also recommended to keep some of the matching grant funding for projects such as broadband.
“We have reduced the budget by approximately $ 540,000. We have taken steps so that we can make a surplus, which goes into the account that the state says we have to do. We had to spend money on the courthouse and the county jail, ”he continued.
In recent years, Bertie County had incurred expenses from its general fund balance for unforeseen circumstances such as natural disasters and construction updates to the Bertie County Courthouse and Regional Jail Bertie-Martin.
“We are still waiting for the reimbursement of the grants for some of these projects. We always have to pay for projects in advance and wait for grant funding, ”said Bertie County Commission vice-chair John Trent.
“The Local Government Commission (LGC) is watching us closely because the fund balance is where it is,” Vaughan added.
“I went into this budget fiercely so that county employees get more than one percent. But after looking at the expenses incurred and the need to save funding, I now understand. The county is in debt for taking over the water supply systems of three cities. I’m just glad the tax rate hasn’t increased. Bertie County employees would receive a bonus bonus. Martin County employees did not receive a bonus, ”said Bertie County Commissioner Ron Roberson.
April Graham, an employee of the Bertie County Social Services Department, brought her concerns to council.
“I am here to talk about a raise, and I have heard what you have to say before. I have the impression that the social services department is at the bottom of the totem pole. We don’t feel like we’re being treated fairly, ”she continued.
“We made some salary adjustments,” said Bertie County Commission Chairman Tammy Lee.
“It’s amazing to see the budgets. Some earn 200% more and don’t need it. Some like me earn a lot less, ”Graham replied.
“I think we should ask our human resources department to review the pay scales for the social services department and consider future changes,” Roberson added.
According to Vaughan, there have been issues of wage cuts with the social services department, and there was a meeting with the former county manager.
Retired Bertie County employee Bonita Henderson asked if the $ 1,500 bonus would be paid only to current employees or also to those who may have retired during COVID-19.
“I was there during COVID-19 and recently retired. Why can’t those who have retired get the bonus? Henderson added.
According to Vaughan, any employee who worked during the COVID-19 pandemic but also retired during that time would not be eligible for the bonus. This is only for current Bertie County employees.
“I have been in the county for 26 years. I have trained new employees in Hertford County for my job who are starting to make more money than me. Those in Martin County make more money than I do. I have never had a merit increase. To me, that’s just not fair, ”said Bonita Thompson, Bertie County employee.
“I hear the concerns loud and clear. We can only spend what we receive. Some years we had to spend over a million dollars. The LGC says we have to have an eight percent fund balance, we’re lucky if we have four percent. I wish we could do more, ”said Ron Wesson, Bertie County Commissioner.
The LGC recommends that each county government maintain at least eight percent of its fund balance. If it falls below the recommended percentage, the LGC begins to question the decrease and the destination of the funding.
“I think one percent is better than none, but all the employees in this county are important. Every once in a while throw the dog a snack, and we want a snack. Each of the commissioners should walk around and see what we’re doing. Most things in our office arrive electronically, ”said Annie Wilson, Bertie County Deed Registry.
Ruth Davidson, an employee of the Bertie County Social Services Department, asked if workers would receive an increase in funding if the state increased its funding amount.
“No, it doesn’t work that way,” Vaughan replied.
“Will the premium paid be taxed?” ”Asked Stephanie Bell, a 25-year-old employee of the Bertie County Social Services Department.
“Yes, it will be taxed,” Vaughan replied.
“I’m going to ask if someone can come talk to us. Not everyone can attend board meetings, ”continued Bell.
“I just didn’t want to interrupt your day,” Lee said.
“The only way employees receive raises is at all levels. We did not grant a merit pay increase. We need a system to reward superior performance. I would love to find the money to do it, ”said Roberson. “It’s something we have to look at, but we have to have the funding in place. Give us another chance and let’s all stay positive.
“I get the phone calls and hear the frustrations,” Lee added.
“I would like to see funds dedicated to a project that citizens would like to see happen. We all have concerns and would like to have our voices heard, ”said Vivian Clark, Citizen of Bertie County.
“Unfortunately, the first half of the funding has already been budgeted for projects. We will get another funding of $ 1.6 million. We should meet with citizens to figure out how to spend the extra dollars, ”Wesson concluded.
Bertie County Commissioners took no action on the proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. They agreed to meet again before the inauguration of the Bertie County Public Library / Co-op Extension Building to discuss citizens’ concerns and possibly approve the budget.
However, Trent brought forward a motion to approve the spending of American Rescue Act funding. Wesson offered a second. It was approved unanimously.
With funding approval from the American Rescue Act, Bertie County can provide the $ 1,500 bonus to its employees.
Thadd White is editor-in-chief of Bertie Ledger-Advance and can be contacted by email at [email protected]