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County to consider freeze on more positions

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.comCounty commissioners are likely to cut or freeze a few more positions Monday at they continue to struggle with a $7 million budget shortfall.
Barring a last minute dumping of state costs onto the county, commissioners are expected to approve the $125 million budget that keeps the current tax rate of 59.5 cents per $100 valuation.
Commissioners delayed the budget approval fearful the General Assembly might move the cost of keeping up local roads or a 5 percent share of Medicaid on the county.
Either of those worst case scenarios would cost the county another $9 million ó and force commissioners to raise taxes or loot the fund balance or savings.
State legislators went home for the weekend Thursday after deciding they couldn’t finish the budget by Tuesday.
Since the county budget has to be adopted and the tax rate set by June 30, commissioners will go forward with a few remaining issues on the table.
Some measures up for discussion Monday night could save more than $150,000 with the elimination or freezing of positions soon to be vacant.
Commissioners are expected to consider:
– Whether to approve paid employee health insurance with 30 years service at any age. If approved, Maj. Tim Bost of the Sheriff’s Office plans to retire Tuesday.
County Manager Gary Page is asking commissioners to eliminate that position.
– Whether to allow the Rowan-Salisbury Schools to use $375,000 earmarked for classroom supplies to be used for teacher salaries, helping offset state cuts.
A poll of teachers showed overwhelming support for the change.
Although teachers and school supporters called on commissioners to boost school funding by $1.5 million at the June 15 public hearing, added spending is not on the board’s agenda.
– What amount of funding the Rowan County Rescue Squad will receive. The manager recommended continuing the agency at the same level as this year, $412,000.
During a budget workshop, commissioners appeared to agree to cut some funding after a commissioner noted the squad got $75,000 extra last year as a one-time allocation.
– Whether to use an alternative plan that would cut positions in the inspections department. Initially, two employees would have lost their jobs July 1.
Under a revised plan, one of the employees will be assigned to fire inspections, filling in for an inspector who is on active duty in Iraq. He will have the job for 10 months. If inspections don’t pick up, the position will be cut at that point. A second position will be reduced to three days a week.
Page said noted last week that the county could effectively cut 16 positions without anyone losing their job immediately.
Page is also recommended a freeze on filling a top health department post at least for several months. Jim Cowan, director of Allied Health Services has rejoined the military.
– Whether to continue the hiring freeze on all but emergency and law enforcement positions. The freeze has been in place since October.
Chairman Carl Ford said some departments have been hit hard due to retirements. “We may need to continue it on a case by case basis,” he said.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners meets at 7 p.m. Monday in the Cohen County Administrative Offices Building, 130 W. Innes St.

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