SALISBURY — With some heated veterans in attendance Monday night, commissioners attempted to strike a compromise on proposed cuts to the county’s veteran services office.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to reduce County Veteran Services Officer Elaine Howle from full time to 19 hours a week, while adding two part time positions. Commissioner Jon Barber voted against the measure.
Commissioner Mike Caskey said the change would boost the veteran services department from 40 to 57 hours a week. Those changes are expected to be implemented quickly with the first officer hired in coming weeks and a third hired around May 1.
As happened last month, several folks turned out in defense of Howle’s job, including some who said Howle had worked to help them recoup financial assistance and backpay.
One speaker, James Arnold of Salisbury, lambasted Howle, saying a clerical error committed by Howle cost him years of work.
“I’m sorry, she cost me five years’ worth of work,” Arnold said. “I cannot refile unless I find new evidence because of her error.”
In the end, Commissioner Mike Caskey proposed the idea of two additional part time officers — using the money from the nixed clerical position and Howle’s retirement and benefit funds.
“Technically, her salary would be two for one and her benefits would just about fund the third one,” Page said.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell said the additional personnel would help solve complaints that the department was understaffed.
“I think that this proposal is in the end going to be better for the veterans overall,” Mitchell said.
But Commissioner Jon Barber asked for an additional full-time officer.
Barber said the county is taking a risk by changing up a program “that already works.”
“Why take that chance with our veterans?” he asked. “They deserve better.”
Page said Howle will continue as a full-time officer until the part-time position is filled.
“She’ll probably be full time for another month,” Page said.
Page said the veteran services department has been audited three times in the last four years.
At least one of those audits, he said, recommended additional personnel.
“Their comments were that she was doing an acceptable job and that she knew her roles and forms and so there was never anything negative,” Page said.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.