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County budget eliminates positions, offers no pay raises

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
The proposed county budget for 2009-2010 would cut jobs, offer no merit or cost-of-living pay increases, keep schools at the current funding level and maintain the current tax rate of 59.5 cents per $100 valuation.
In a no-growth economy, County Manager Gary Page will budget $7.4 million from the county’s savings to balance the $126 million budget.
Page said Tuesday his back is against the wall as he faces requests for nearly $10 million in new spending with revenue down and no certainty about when the economy will turn around.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System won’t get a requested $1.9 million increase in county funding.
Instead, Page is recommending the county fund the schools at the same level as this year ó $1,565 per pupil, the state average.
Due to a change in the state’s starting date for kindergarten students this fall, Rowan-Salisbury will lose an estimated 220 students.
As a result of the decrease in student enrollment, Rowan-Salisbury’s current-expense budget will drop by $255,000 for a total appropriation of $32.3 million.
Kannapolis City Schools’ budget will decrease by $95,000, cutting the county’s appropriation to $1.7 million.
In addition, the county will continue its allocation of $375,000 to Rowan-Salisbury for classroom supplies and a comparable amount to Kannapolis City Schools.
And due to a downturn in sales tax revenues, the funding available for school capital projects will fall by $515,000. The county is projected to get $4.4 million, with $2.2 million of that going to pay on school bonds. That leaves $1.9 million for capital capital outlay and technology.
The proposed budget is a mix of bad and worse news for county employees.
Employees will receive no raises and 14 positions will be eliminated. Additional positions could be cut if more employees opt to retire.
“I have to say it’s tough. I have no money to work with,” Page said.
Early last fall, when the economy soured, commissioners instituted a hiring freeze on non-emergency positions but haven’t eliminated any jobs so far.
Among the proposed cuts are seven positions that have been frozen since October. They include one full-time and one part-time ambulance billing processing technician; one children’s librarian; one deputy register of deeds; one assistant tax collector; and two public health nurses.
The county will partially privatize ambulance billing collections, contracting with a company to collect current bills.
Due to the drastic downturn in building, Page proposes cutting two building inspectors and two sanitarians from the Health Department.
Three middle school resource officer positions with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office will also be eliminated. Page noted the school board has opted to drop its share of funding for the positions. The resource officers will be reassigned to fill three vacant deputy positions.
A few other positions will be moved and otherwise changed to save additional dollars.
In the annual reclassification of employee positions, the only substantial recommended upgrades include a salary increase of $5,197 for Health Director Leonard Wood, making his annual salary $108,352, and a $4,575 raise for Social Services Director Sandra Wilkes, bringing her annual salary to $95,348.
Overall, 30 or more employees would get a total of $84,000 in raises.
The county will increase its monthly premium per employee for health insurance from $656 to $705, a total increase of $450,000, or 7.5 percent.
Overall, county departments and agencies requested $8.9 million for personnel or equipment. Page recommended $818,000 in expansion items.
A total of 53 new positions were requested. None are recommended.
The expansion items include:
– Annual allocation of $31,500 to nine municipal fire departments that answer back-up calls in the unincorporated areas of the county. Each department would receive $225 monthly.
– A $14,800 increase in funding for Rowan-Cabarrus Community College for current expenses and $49,100 for operation of the new classroom building scheduled to open in April 2010.
– A $242,900 allocation for two renovation projects, the roof at the Justice Center and the heating and air-conditioning system at the County Building, 402 N. Main Street. Also included is a document management system for the Social Services Department.
Nearly two dozen local agencies and nonprofits will continue to be funded at the current level. Page is recommending one addition, $3,000 for the Bullhole River Park. Special appropriations total $1 million.
One volunteer fire department, Rockwell Rural, is asking for a 1 cent hike in its fire tax, going from 6 to 7 cents per $100 valuation.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.


Correction
This story on the Rowan County budget reported nearly 30 employees were recommended for raises as part of the annual reclassification. While the increases were recommended as part of the review, County Manager Gary Page is not recommending the salary increases.

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