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BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS 

ALEXANDER COUNTY

REGULAR MEETING

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA

June 2, 2003

PRESENT: W. Darrell Robertson, Chairman
William L. Hammer, Vice-Chairman
Wesley E. Bolick
W. Norris Keever
David S. Odom
STAFF: Rick French, County Manager
Jamie Millsaps, Clerk to the Board
David Icenhour, Human Resources Director
Russell Greene, Fire Marshal
MEDIA: Gary Herman, The Taylorsville Times
Norris Keever, WACB Radio

 

The Alexander County Board of Commissioners held its regular meeting on Monday, June 2, 2003 at the Catawba Valley Community College / Alexander Center Multipurpose Room, Taylorsville, North Carolina.

CALL TO ORDER

Chairman Robertson called the meeting to order at 6:00 PM.

INVOCATION AND PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE

Commissioner Odom gave the invocation and Commissioner Hammer led the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

ADOPTION OF AGENDA

Chairman Robertson requested the addition of a Closed Session to discuss contractual matters pursuant to N.C.G.S. 143-318.11(a)(5).

Commissioner Hammer made a motion to adopt the agenda as amended. Commissioner Keever seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

PUBLIC HEARING: ALEXANDER COUNTY 2003-2004 PROPOSED BUDGET

Rick French, County Manager stated that the proposed budget for all County funds and services including General Fund, Water & Sewer, Solid Waste, Volunteer Fire Departments, Capital Improvements, Emergency 911 System, and Revaluation totaled $28,566,464.

Mr. French stated that during the past two budget years, the impact of the state budget cuts had been $1,421,791 for Alexander County. This combined with the struggling economy, higher Medicaid costs, and lower interest rates made maintaining essential County services extremely challenging. Last year, Alexander County adopted an interim budget due to the state budget uncertainty. This year, although the state budget process is ahead of schedule, the shortfalls still exists. Mr. French informed the Board that Governor Easley and legislative leaders had reported new, more pessimistic economic forecasts for the upcoming budget year, predicting a further $55 million drop in state revenue, forcing the General Assembly to contemplate new sources of money or even more cuts. Easley stated in a letter distributed Thursday that "economic growth will be weaker than predicted in the separate budgets tentatively approved by the House and Senate."

Already confronting an estimated $400 million shortfall as a result of poorer than expected tax collection this spring, law makers face a shortfall of $456 million. How this translates to North Carolina counties and cities is fairly predictable given the trends over the past several years by Governor Easley and the General Assembly. Mr. French noted that was why the County’s proposed budget plan for 2003-2004 would be an "even more conservative work in progress" as Alexander County approached another fiscal year. Mr. French stated that the "wildcard" in the budget process would be the Solid Waste Fund, more specifically, the operation of the landfill and the economic impact of state regulations that monitor construction and debris landfills, leachate, and other sedimentation and erosion issues.

Mr. French reported that the General Fund proposed budget totaled $22,912,000 or 1.9% less than the current year budget. The tax rate will remain the same at 46.5 cents and projected revenue from the increase in property values, based on a 95% collection rate, will be 2% or $174,000 according to the Tax Administrator. The total projected revenue from the property tax is $8,881,000. Mr. French stated that the major factor in increased revenue was the additional revenue generated by the half-cent sales tax, which was added in January 2003. This sales tax should produce $1 million in additional revenue, but to date the collection numbers have not been up to the estimates provided by the NCACC. Mr. French noted that County staff was reviewing these numbers again for the upcoming budget work session on June 9, 2003. No fund balance has been budgeted because the current fund balance is below 8% as required by the NC Local Government Commission.

Mr. French reviewed several highlights from the General Fund, which included the following:

    • 2% COLA increase for County employees.
    • 4 new vehicles and 2 new jail positions for the Sheriff’s Department.
    • Reorganized Planning & Inspections Department.
    • Consolidated Communications.
    • Financing of new communications equipment to be Phase I and Phase II compliant.
    • New Pre-Trial Release Program.
    • Completion of Dusty Ridge Park.
    • Installment purchase for DSS building renovation project.
    • $10,000 in Community Grants.
    • $20,000 in Public Safety Grants.

Mr. French stated that the Solid Waste Fund totaled $1,411,512 and he recommended that the Construction and Debris fee of $22.15 be eliminated and the tipping fee of $44.30 be charged for all trash. This increase is necessary in moving toward state environmental mandates at the landfill. Mr. French explained that this increase would still not produce the dollars necessary to make the landfill self-supporting; therefore, $214,000 would still be needed from the General Fund to balance the budget. Mr. French stated that a Solid Waste Task Force would be meeting during the next few months to review all issues related to the landfill.

Mr. French stated that McGill Associates estimated a 5% to 10% water rate increase. A $400,000 Rural Center Grant is currently under consideration and a $40,000 supplemental grant will be pursued to develop a better overall plan for the County water system. Final numbers will be developed for the next budget work session on June 9, 2003. Mr. French also stated that the County would be receiving a 2.4% CPI increase from the City of Hickory.

Mr. French also discussed the 911 Communications budget. Mr. French recommended an increase from 68 cents to 80 cents to produce revenue to assist in the purchase of new radio equipment connecting to the communications consolidation project in which an estimated $400,000 would be needed to update equipment and provide better emergency service.

Mr. French stated that all Fire Department budgets would stay within the current range and he noted that there were no tax increases proposed in the volunteer fire department budgets.

Mr. French noted that a copy of the proposed budget was available for public inspection at the County Administration Office, Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

Chairman Robertson stated that North Carolina would receive funding of a $20 billion federal grant and he asked Mr. French if he or County staff had received any information regarding that grant. Mr. French replied that he had received some information from the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners that indicated that North Carolina would receive an 8% reduction in Medicaid payments in association with the grant. This reduction could save Alexander County approximately $100,000.

Chairman Robertson called the public hearing to order and requested any public comment.

Public Comment

Several individuals spoke on behalf of their departments and/or organizations during including the following:

Rescue Squad Budget

Keith Millsaps, President of the Rescue Squad Board of Directors, stated that the Rescue Squad had requested a $50,000 allotment from the County for 2003-2004 as they have for several previous years. However, the recommended allotment for 2003-2004 includes a 27% decrease for the Rescue Squad or a total allotment of $36,653. Mr. Millsaps explained that the County’s allotment represented 39% of the Rescue Squad’s income during the 2001-2002 budget and 33% during the 2002-2003 budget. Mr. Millsaps felt that a 27% decrease would tremendously affect the operation of the Rescue Squad and he requested reconsideration of the allotment.

Commissioner Hammer asked if the recommended funding would be enough to pay for vehicles, buildings, etc. Mr. Millsaps replied that the recommended allotment would cover capital payments, according to the letter from the County that he received.

Commissioner Odom expressed his concerns with the recommended allotment for the Rescue Squad and he stated that even though the funding would provide for capital and debt service for vehicles and buildings, it would not provide for insurance, operations, fuel, equipment, etc. Commissioner Odom pointed out that the volunteer fire departments were not taking a cut and he felt that there were several areas of the County budget that could be trimmed so that all emergency service organizations could be treated equally and fairly. Commissioner Odom applauded the volunteer service provided by the fire departments and the Rescue Squad and he encouraged the Board to reconsider the allotment.

Commissioner Hammer asked if the Town of Taylorsville appropriated funding to the Rescue Squad. Mr. Millsaps replied that the Town’s allotment totaled $5,000 for 2002-2003, which represented 3% of the Rescue Squad’s income.

Library Budget

Doris Stephens, Library Director, discussed the reduction to the Library budget, which totaled 10.48%. However, when including the loss of state aid due to the reduction, the total equals a 13.55% reduction. Ms. Stephens explained that the Library risked losing all state aid if the budget reduction was not a strict, across the board cut to all County departments. Ms. Stephens informed the Board that the Alexander County Library expected $89,611 in state aid and she noted that House and the Senate had restored some additional funding which could result in approximately $96,000 to Alexander County.

Ms. Stephens also stated that during the last budget process, she and Mr. French agreed to cut the hours of the 2 Library staff members with the least seniority in half. However, 3 staff members volunteered to give up 8 hours each per week so that the 2 other employees would not have to take such a large cut in hours. Ms. Stephens stated that those staff members were under the impression that this would only be temporary but she noted that when she received the recommended Library budget, those staff members were still at 32 hours per week. Ms. Stephens felt that her staff deserved more and she requested that the board consider restoring staff to full-time status.

Ms. Stephens also stated that she was concerned that her successor would begin his position with a difficult budget to operate with and the possibility of losing state aid if the budget wasn’t adjusted. Ms. Stephens informed the Board that she had informally polled several of her Library colleagues and had found that out of 53 counties and one city, there were very few budget cuts and none that were as much as Alexander County’s Library.

Gary Bebber, Library Board Chairman, began by thanking the Board as well as Mr. French and David Icenhour, Human Resources Director, for their support during the hiring process of the new Library Director. Mr. Bebber discussed the days when the County did not have a library and noted how pleased he was when a library was finally built. Mr. Bebber stated that the Library served as many citizens’ source of information, learning, ideas, etc. Mr. Bebber stated that the Library Board understood that the County was enduring a period of time when revenue was not plentiful but he encouraged the Board to take into consideration the sacrifice made by the Library staff. Mr. Bebber stated that he was concerned that if the hours were not restored, some staff members would choose to work elsewhere.

Ms. Stephens pointed out that the funding for the bookmobile maintenance and supplies had been restored in the 2003-2004 budget recommendation but the staffing required to operate the bookmobile had not.

Commissioner Odom asked if Ms. Stephens and the Library Board would consider doing without the bookmobile for another year in order to restore staff hours as requested. Ms. Stephens replied that she would be agreeable and she noted that the bookmobile could not operate without staff anyway.

Commissioner Odom inquired about the cost of restoring staff to full-time status. Jennifer Herman, Finance Officer, replied that the cost including salaries and the County’s portion of FICA and retirement would total a little over $28,000.

There being no further public comment, Commissioner Keever made a motion to close the public hearing. Commissioner Hammer seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

Ms. Herman informed the Board that it would cost an additional $42,000 to restore the original funding request for the Rescue Squad and the requested hours for Library staff.

Commissioner Hammer stated that he would like to see the Board fund the Rescue Squad and the Library’s requests if possible. Commissioner Hammer also felt that the Library was one of the departments hit the hardest in budget cuts during the last 2 years.

Chairman Robertson informed Mr. Millsaps, Ms. Stephens, and Mr. Bebber that the Board would take a look at the budget to determine if adjustments could be made. Chairman Robertson also thanked staff for attending.

PERSONNEL POLICY REVISIONS

David Icenhour, Human Resources Director, discussed several revisions to the Personnel Policy, previously presented to the Board. Mr. Icenhour informed the Board that the proposed revisions had been reviewed by Mark Knuckles, Human Resources Consultant, as well as by County department heads and employees.

Mr. Icenhour discussed the primary changes in the policy, which included the following:

    1. Redefine "Grievance" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 4
    2. Define "Part-time Employee" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 4-5
    3. Clarify status of exempt and non-exempt employees . .Page 13-15
    4. Establish "bonus time" for exempt employees . . . . . .Page 14-15
    5. Improve recruitment guidelines for County Manager . . Page 16
    6. Link policy with Unlawful Harassment Policy . . . . . . .Page 22-23
    7. Rewrite "Holiday Compensation" to reflect eight-hour basis .Page 26-27
    8. Rewrite "Adverse Conditions Leave" . . . . . . . . . . .Page 27-28
    9. Institute new "Advance Leave" . . . . . . . . . . .  Page 30
    10. Streamline Health Insurance section . . . . . . . . . .Page 39-40
    11. Clarify "Reduction in Force" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 42-43
    12. Link disciplinary actions with Performance Policy .Page 45

Mr. Icenhour also stated that he had made some minor changes since the distribution of the revisions to items e and f which included the removal of the wording "management-level" in item e and removal of the wording "unlawful" in item f.

Commissioner Keever made a motion to approve the Personnel Policy revisions as presented. Commissioner Odom seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

FLAG HOLDER UPDATE

Barbara Poole, Veterans Service Director, gave an update on the veteran’s flag holders, which included the following information:

    1. Total number of graves submitted as of May 1, 2003:
    1. 1239 graves submitted
    2. 46 out of 101 cemeteries reported
    1. Estimated totals:
    2. Flag holders needed-------------------1239

      Less-flag holders already placed ------54

      Flag holders in stock-------------------105

      Balance to purchase-------------------1080

    3. Proposed cost based on Gohn Manufacturing Quotes:
    1. $10.50 each ($11.27 each with shipping) for basic U.S. brass flag holders with rods.
    2. $10.50 each ($11.27 each with shipping) for basic wartime brass flag holders with rods.
    1. Proposed time period and cost to "catch up" existing graves:
    1. Two year period: of 1080 = 540 holders x $11.27 = $6,085.80
    2. Three year period: 1/3 of 1080 = 360 holders x $11.27 = $4,057.20

Ms. Poole recommended that the Board move forward with the 2-year period since the project had been ongoing for over a year. Ms. Poole also proposed that a line item be established in the Veterans Service Office budget for the flag holder purchase.

    1. In regards to using the wartime brass flag holders:
    1. There is no difference in cost if the brass flag holders with rods are used (peacetime or wartime).
    2. The County news release did not specify wartime periods be included on list, so most of the lists only include the veteran’s name.
    3. Ms. Poole recommended, if the Board chose to use the wartime flag holders, that the County purchase the flag holders now in possession of Mr. Gene Thomas. Mr. Thomas has 236 wartime holders in stock at a cost of $2,478. This would be saving $181.72 in shipping costs.
    4. Ms. Poole also recommended accepting Mr. Thomas’ offer to assist as a volunteer in securing wartime information and placement of the flag holders. Mr. Thomas has also offered to pick up the flag holders, which would save on shipping cost of future orders.
    5. The County may be able to exchange some of the peacetime flag holders now in stock, which are already paid for, for some of the wartime flag holders.
    6. All ordering and records will be done through the Veteran's Service Office.

Commissioner Hammer stated that he appreciated that Mr. Thomas was willing to volunteer his time to drive to Pennsylvania to pick up the flag holders. Commissioner Hammer also recommended that the Board approve the 2-year plan.

Commissioner Bolick stated that he and his church was appreciative of the County allowing them to purchase the flag holders through the Veterans Service Office. Commissioner Bolick stated that the purpose of purchasing the flag holders was to honor all U.S. service men and women and he felt that placing wartime flag holders that delineated conflicts was giving the impression that one veteran was more significant than another. However, Commissioner Bolick stated that he would still vote in favor of the purchase of the flag holders.

Ms. Poole informed the Board that many cemeteries had chosen to only use the basic U.S. peacetime flag holders instead of the wartime flag holders.

Commissioner Odom made a motion to implement the 2-year plan for consideration during the ongoing budget discussions and to purchase the 236 flag holders currently in possession of Gene Thomas at a cost of $2,478. Commissioner Keever seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

Chairman Robertson conveyed his appreciation to Ms. Poole for the work she had put into this project and to Mr. Thomas for offering to volunteer his time.

BUDGET ORDINANCE AMENDMENTS #55 - #60

Rick French, County Manager, discussed the purpose of Budget Amendments #55 - #60, which included the following information:

    1. Budget Amendment #55 – To budget for the purchase of sponsor signs at Dusty Ridge ballpark.
    2. Budget Amendment #56 – To amend the budget for financing costs associated with issuing debt for schools.
    3. Budget Amendment #57 – Also to amend the budget for financing costs associated with issuing debt for schools.
    4. Budget Amendment #58 – To budget for the payment of a deductible for Law Enforcement/Public Official liability insurance. To amend the budget for Article 44 half-cent sales tax collections that were lower than expected.
    5. Budget Amendment #59 – To increase the budget for the CVCC debt service payment due in June 2003. To transfer funds for merit bonuses paid in March, April, and May 2003.
    6. Budget Amendment #60 – To budget for the City of Hickory administrative fee for water billing/collections. To budget for advertising and other costs to establish the Bethlehem Sewer District.

Commissioner Hammer made a motion to approve Budget Amendments #55 - #60. Commissioner Odom seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

ALEXANDER COUNTY 2003-2004 PROPOSED BUDGET WORK SESSION

Rick French, County Manager, informed the Board that Doris Stephens, Library Director, had already spoken during the public hearing regarding the Library Budget. Mr. French stated that Sheriff Hayden Bentley, who was also scheduled to speak, had informed him earlier that he would not be able to attend the meeting and would make plans to address the Board at the June 9, 2003 Meeting.

OTHER BUSINESS

The following items were discussed during Other Business:

    1. Rick French, County Manager, discussed the plaque for the CVCC/Alexander Center to be mounted on the outside of the building. The plaque will include the names of County Commissioners and CVCC Board Members involved in the planning and construction of the CVCC/Alexander Center. Mr. French stated that CVCC would pay for half the cost of the plaque and he noted that an open house would be held either on August 17 or 24, 2003. The Board agreed to move forward with the purchase of the plaque.
    2. Mr. French informed the Board that the EMS QRV was involved in an accident shortly after lunch today. Paramedic Terry B. Fox was uninjured; however, the vehicle was totaled.
    3. Commissioner Odom informed the Board that he had accepted the Town Manager position with the Town of Taylorsville and he noted that he would begin that position later in the month. Commissioner Odom stated that he was not required to resign his position as County Commissioner but had decided to do so because he felt such action would be in the best interest of the citizens as well as both County and Town elected officials. Commissioner Odom stated that the main reason for accepting the position was because he would be able to focus more on and spend more time with his wife, his 3-year old son, and his future child to be born this fall. Commissioner Odom stated that he would resign at the end of the June 9, 2003 Meeting and he requested some time during that meeting to speak and properly thank several individuals.

Chairman Robertson stated that he would miss Commissioner Odom’s friendship as well as his service to the Board, especially in matters of rescue, fire, emergency services, etc. Chairman Robertson also mentioned a letter from Joel Harbinson on behalf of the Democrat Executive Committee, which Chairman Robertson asked to be made part of the official minutes of the meeting. Chairman Robertson explained that the Democrat Executive Committee had recommended that Mr. Harbinson be installed as County Commissioner to fill the seat to be vacated by Commissioner Odom. Mr. Harbinson will be given an oath of office by Seth Chapman at the beginning of the June 16, 2003 Meeting.

Commissioner Bolick stated that it had been a pleasure serving with Commissioner Odom.

CONSENT AGENDA

  1. Tax Release Request for May $1,429.18 and Tax Refund Requests for May $378.79
  2. Minutes from April 21, 2003 Regular Commissioners’ Meeting; May 5, 2003 Regular Commissioners’ Meeting; and May 19, 2003 Regular Commissioners’ Meeting.
  3. Home and Community Care Block Grant FY 2004.

Commissioner Keever made a motion to approve the Consent Agenda. Commissioner Hammer seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

CLOSED SESSION – N.C.G.S. 143-318(a)(5) CONTRACTUAL

Commissioner Bolick made a motion to enter into Closed Session at 7:25 PM to discuss contractual matters pursuant to N.C.G.S. 143-318(a)(5). Commissioner Keever seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

ADJOURNMENT

There being no further business, Commissioner Odom made a motion to adjourn at 8:00 PM. Commissioner Bolick seconded the motion. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

 

                                                                                                           

W. Darrell Robertson, Chairman         Jamie C. Millsaps, Clerk to the Board