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Some county workers may get option of retiring early; commissioners back dropping requirement that they be 55

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
As many as 10 county employees who meet retirement guidelines may be able to leave early and get free county health insurance.
On a non-binding vote, Rowan County commissioners agreed to drop the current age limit of 55 for a six-month window July 1 to Dec. 31.
County Manager Gary Page said it could save the county money, particularly if some of the positions are eliminated.
Responding to questions, Page noted one of the positions is a top ranking sheriff’s department official, but not the sheriff.
Commissioners have said previously that Sheriff George Wilhelm has expressed an interest in retiring and getting the health insurance, but he doesn’t qualify.
County commissioners spent more than three hours tweaking the proposed budget Wednesday afternoon. Most discussion dealt with less than $500,000 out of a proposed $125 million budget.
The proposed budget continues the current tax rate of 59.5 cents per $100 of property value. It has no raises, no cost of living increases and eliminates nearly a dozen positions.
Commissioners struggled with proposed employee cuts, changing the funding formula for the Rowan Rescue Squad and letting the Rowan-Salisbury School system use classroom supply money to pay teachers instead of buying supplies.
In all instances, they asked for additional information either from staff or from teachers on whether they would rather have supply money or save jobs.
Originally, commissioners had scheduled another budget session for this afternoon. They opted to cancel it and finish the budget discussion at the Monday night meeting.
Here’s a brief look at the key issues on the table:
– Commissioner Chad Mitchell proposed allowing the school board to use the $375,000 earmarked for classroom supplies to retain teachers. Mitchell said the money would offset the loss of $210,000 in county funding due to a decrease in students.
Mitchell and Vice Chairman Jon Barber said they were notified Wednesday that the school system stands to lose 25 teachers and 75 teacher assistants if the General Assembly approves the state House version of the budget.
Mitchell said teachers he had talked with supported using the money to keep teaching positions.
Commissioner Tina Hall, a retired principal, said teachers, particularly ones in elementary schools, depend on the money for supplies.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain said he would like to consult schools Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom before voting.
Hall countered that she would like teachers across the county to contact commissioners and let them know which they prefer.
– Commissioners debated the future of five positions recommended to be cut.
In an e-mail, Health Director Leonard Wood proposed eliminating two vacant nurses positions while keeping two sanitarians. Commissioners appeared willing to accept the switch.
Commissioners debated at length the future of two building inspectors, also slated to be eliminated.
In a memo, Planning Director Ed Muire noted that while the department revenue from building permits is down, there continues to be a lot of work, including inspections, that doesn’t produce fees.
Coltrain suggested adding one non-paid furlough day after July 1 to allow the county to retain the building inspectors and one additional position in the Register of Deeds office.
A furlough day would save $135,000.
Hall called the furlough idea an extreme measure, observing at one point that the county is not in the employment business. She contended throughout the discussions that spending needed to more closely match revenue.
The budget includes $7.3 million from savings, but only about $3 million of that is expected to be spent.
Commissioners will hear from Register of Deeds John Brindle on Monday night about a plan to eliminate a position in his department.
– Mitchell proposed tying the Rowan County Rescue Squad’s allocation to a percentage of the tax rate. Commissioners agreed last year to do that, but a final vote was never taken.
Under the proposed budget, the squad would get $412,000. That’s the same amount as the current year. That would equate to .37 percent of one penny on the tax rate.
Hall noted the squad’s budget grew from $337,000 to $412,000 in one year when commissioners reallocated $75,000 originally earmarked for the Rowan Jobs Initiative to the Rescue Squad.
Mitchell and Hall clashed over whether the $75,000 allocation was for one time or was to be continuous.
“Now is not the time to pad the budget,” Hall said.
“I take offense,” responded Mitchell.
Mitchell said he was willing to reduce the amount to the 2008 funding plus cost of living, giving the Rescue Squad $351,000 for the coming year. That would reduce the Squad share to .31 percent of a penny on the tax rate.
– Commissioners agreed 4-1 to add $20,000 to the Rufty- Holmes Senior Center. Barber said the agency has sustained cuts in funding from the United Way and other sources, forcing it to cut back hours.
Under the proposal, the county would delay for one year purchase of two radio consoles for the mobile command center.
Hall cast the lone vote against.
– Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget June 15 at 7 p.m.
The final adoption is tentatively set for June 30 ó a move to make last minute changes if General Assembly actions severely impact the counties.
Staff and commissioners worried aloud about the state’s efforts to transfer costs to the counties.
For example, if the state decided to revert to counties paying a portion of Medicaid, the county would need $9 million for the coming budget year.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.

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