BOC hears update on county staff pay and benefits, next year’s budget trends at retreat

Posted 1/20/21

PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Commissioners met last week for its two-day budget retreat, discussing the current fiscal year and a preliminary outlook for next year’s budget. …

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BOC hears update on county staff pay and benefits, next year’s budget trends at retreat

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Commissioners met last week for its two-day budget retreat, discussing the current fiscal year and a preliminary outlook for next year’s budget.

Here’s a deeper look at some of the items from Tuesday’s docket:

Chatham County Schools

Chatham County Schools gave a brief presentation to the board highlighting its finances, reviewing its expanded budget request and introducing Interim Superintendent Dr. Randy Bridges, who was sworn in on Jan. 11.

During his introduction to the board, Bridges praised the board for its collaboration with the school district, saying he’d heard many positive things about the relationship between the county and CCS.

“Don’t take that for granted because that’s not the norm in other parts of North Carolina,” he said. Bridges has filled several interim roles as superintendent since retiring from running school systems, serving as an interim superintendent most recently at Orange County Schools.

During the district’s presentation, it said its local current expense fund balance totaled $4,426,570, and that it had been recognized for financial accountability and reporting at the state, national and international level for eight consecutive years.

The district proposed a local current expense increase of $2,530,000 for the 2021-2022 fiscal year to assist with a growing student population, which would bring the county funding to $40,280,000. The areas of need listed for this request were due to Seaforth High School, $180,000 for a salary supplement for licensed employees and an operational increase for Chatham Grove Elementary.

Seaforth, a new high school set to open to 9th and 10th graders in the fall, is 98% complete, the district said, and set to finish under budget. Commissioner Jim Crawford asked whether it would be possible for commissioners to get a tour of the facility.

“There’s a lot of public interest in it,” he said, “so it’d be nice to be able to say we know firsthand, (that) this is a great thing.”

“I would love to take you there and walk you around,” CCS Chief Operations Officer Chris Blice said.

Blice also answered the board’s questions about Seaforth’s attendance zone, saying that despite some public controversy, the CCS Board of Education paid close attention to demographic balancing and income distribution when creating the new zone from Northwood’s existing zone.

Crawford said he would like to see three of the district’s elementary schools — Bennett, Silk Hope and Bonlee (the latter two of which are technically K-8 schools) — moved up in the capital improvements plan.

“There’s an opportunity there to have facilities that could be used like the Chatham Grove School,” he said, “for (Chatham County) Parks and Rec and to provide a service to the community and build a more integrated school site.”

The district emphasized its thanks to the county for its support, and said the local current expense per pupil funding (including charter schools) had increased approximately $490 per student since the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

HR presentation on pay and benefits

Carolyn Miller, the county’s human resources director, provided an update on pay and benefits for county employees, reminding the board and staff that there were no meets adjustments in July 2020 and that salaries were not adjusted during the year.

“We do exam reclassifications through our budget process built into our operating budget process,” Miller said. “We’re getting ready to start with that.”

Miller said a pay and classification study is underway, conducted to determine whether the current pay structure needs to be modified, as well as to identify any changes that may have occurred in the nature of any employee’s work — with a focus on both external and internal equity.

By early February, Miller said the department plans to have collected and analyzed external and internal data, with the goal of submitting a preliminary report to county management by early March.

The data presented regarding county turnover showed that the average tenure for county staff (7.74 years) was on an upward trajectory. The unofficial overall turnover rate in the county was 13% for the 2020-21 year, down from 14% in 2020 and 15% in 2019.

“By far most of our turnover is due to resignations, voluntary resignations,” Mille said. “That will likely continue — there are a handful of retirements, we’ve had six thus far this year, and I know of two more that are coming in the next two months. So that average is about 10 a year or so.”

Miller also said that total program cost versus funding was projected to be on point for the fiscal year, and that COVID-19 testing and treatment was covered under the county’s health plan at no cost to employees through March 31.

“One of the things that has taken up a lot of our efforts this year is the implementation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that was passed at federal level,” Miller said. “You all passed a policy effective April 1, extending COVID leave to those people who are identified close contacts and those who test positive.”

Miller said fewer than 40 people have tested positive since April, with one hospitalization.

Expected conditions to impact next year’s budget

The board also heard a presentation regarding next year’s budget. That presentation showed that the Register of Deeds excise revenue was “up considerably over the same time last year,” including increased number of refinancings and sale/transfer of high value properties. The Watershed and Environmental Health were both ahead of last year through Q1, with Q2 still being finalized.

Due to the Oct. 28 cyber incident, the county said its largest months of revenue collection for property tax were not accounted for. The motor vehicle tax was performing above last year, with counties likely to benefit from a one-year “bump” due to the six-month pandemic-related suspension that expired early in this fiscal year.

The county held its sales tax flat due to the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, but through four months, it’s ahead of last year by $800,000, or 15.2% over the same time period last year.

The county said the statewide transition in sales tax is likely driven largely by the lack of entertainment industry, increase in online shopping and less commuting to large metro areas for shopping.

Overall, the county is currently projected to break even, though staff encouraged county departments to monitor spending as much as possible.

Known expenses for fiscal year 2021-22 included:

Chatham County Schools

• Additional $2.4 million to open Seaforth High School

• Additional $180,000 retirement increase for local supplement

• Additional $33,539 operational increase for Chatham Grove

County operating expense

• +1.2% increase in retirement contribution ($240,000)

• +2% increase in health/dental insurance ($119,000)

• +7% increase in property/liability insurance ($43,000)

• Increase of approximately $70,000 for new FY21 positions budgeted mid-year

• Increased operating costs of new/expanded County buildings: expanded/renovated Animal Shelter ($188,000); new EMS base ($405,000)

Potential expenses

• ~ $1 million for adjustments in employee pay

• +/- $415,000 inflationary increase in operating

The county predicted its total expected expansion requests were +/- $4 million.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com.

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