Rowan County enacts hiring freeze

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Facing uncertain financial times, Rowan County will implement a 90-day hiring freeze starting Oct. 15.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners agreed with County Manager Gary Page’s recommendation for handling any potential revenue loss.
Commissioners left it up to Page to handle the hiring freeze. He indicated that only essential vacancies will be filled รณ deputies, emergency medical personnel and key positions in the Department of Social Services.
Page said the county is in very sound financial shape, with its fund balance, or savings, nearly double the amount required by the state.
He pointed out that the county’s growth depends on development.
“If we’re not issuing building permits, there’s no growth,” he said.
Page and Finance Director Leslie Heidrick said they have seen no decreases in sales tax or property tax revenues. Heidrick also pointed out that the current budget includes very conservative estimates for revenues because of the potential for a recession.
For example, while the county’s sales tax grew by 2 percent last year, Heidrick estimated 1 percent growth for the current budget.
Page told commissioners the 90-day hiring freeze will give the county time to assess the local impact of the federal government’s $700 billion economic bailout.
If needed, the hiring freeze can be extended and possibly adjusted.
Page also plans a freeze on non-essential travel.
Responding to questions from commissioners, Page said any employee who needs to attend a training session or other event to maintain certification will be allowed to go.
If certification is not involved, the travel will not be approved.
Commissioner Jim Sides, who serves on the county Social Services board of directors, cited high turnover among staff in the children’s protective service sector and intake workers.
Sides noted that the downturn in the economy has caused a large increase in the numbers of people seeking help.
Commissioners agreed that Page has discretion to waive the hiring freeze to fill vacant Social Services slots and others that he judges crucial.
During an extensive discussion of the county’s financial situation and what may be coming, Heidrick said the trend is similar so far to what the county experienced in 2000 and 2001 with the closing of textile mills.
But Heidrick pointed out the situation was worse then because the state took back nearly $4 million.
Commissioner Tina Hall tried to pin Heidrick down on the level of her concerns.
“I’m not real excited,” said Heidrick. But she added that the county is in a sound position right now.
She pointed out that while the county budgeted $11 million of its fund balance in the 2008 budget, $8.5 million went unspent. That rolls over into the current budget, which calls for spending $8 million in fund balance.
During the past 10 years, the county has averaged spending 94 percent of budgeted funds, leaving millions unspent each year.