Commissioners talk budget at workshop

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BAKERSVILLE – The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners met Friday, April 24, to begin discussing a possible budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year. 

Newly appointed county manager Tim Greene presented the proposed budget to the commissioners with assistance from finance officer Mavis Parsley, who he credited with “doing all of the heavy lifting” on the budget.

The budget proposal included the possibility of a “pay plan,” which would cost the county about $365,000 with an additional $25,000 to implement through FACA. The pay plan, which Parsley noted has not been done in the county since 2007, would establish the basic pay rates of different types of employees. 

Parsley said because the county does not have a “step plan,” which would allow pay raises to employees with seniority, the pay plan could cause some initial problems. 

“The problem with the pay plan is compression,” Parsley said. “So, an example is you have deputies who have been here 10 years and a deputy who started last year, and they would be making the same amount of money because we didn’t have a step plan.”

The county currently has a grade plan rather than a step plan. With a grade plane, it’s “vertical,” Greene said. The higher the grade means the higher salary, and these are determined based on annual evaluations. A step plan is “horizontal” and moves from one step to the other automatically after a certain amount of time, Greene said.

All commissioners agreed they would be interested in implementing a step plan if an assessment was incorporated.

“What I want to see personally implemented within that plan is an evaluation process,” said Matthew “Vern” Grindstaff, vice chair of the board of commissioners. “So, whether you’re getting your steps just because you’re a three-year employee or a five-year employee, there still needs to be an evaluation process somewhere in there so we can hold people accountable.”

The board also discussed a likely dip in sales tax revenue in the upcoming months due to COVID-19. 

“We know sales tax is going to be down,” Greene said.

Parsley noted she had only budgeted about a 5 percent loss even though some finance officers in the state are projecting a possible 25 percent loss. 

“I’m being conservative,” she said. “Most of our restaurants are still selling food, and people are still buying at Walmart and Ingles. I think a big store like Walmart is helping us at this time. Compared to a lot of places, we don’t have a lot of other retail.”

Parsley said they wouldn’t know how much sales tax revenue has dropped until they receive the numbers from March in May. 

“We’ll just have to play it by ear month to month and see how it comes in,” she said. “When we get the sales tax in May, if we see something different, we can always adjust accordingly.”

Additionally, Mitchell County Schools superintendent Chad Calhoun stopped by the meeting to update the board on how they are doing budget-wise and the likelihood of “severe losses.”

Calhoun said they know schools will have $189,000 less in funding next year, and he has found a cut through three retiring teachers and a secretary. He said if those teachers are in schools that gain four-to-five students in the grade level that was cut, he would need to have that teacher back.

“If that happens, that’s when I’m either coming to you, or that means we’re cutting programs,” Calhoun said. “You cut art teachers, music teachers, band teachers, PE teachers, and you don’t want to do that, because then you’re sending people home.”

Calhoun also requested another four-year resolution to cover the 1-to-1 initiative. While the previous resolution has not expired yet, Calhoun said because they are entering into a new lease, they will need another resolution to cover the equipment.

Lastly, Calhoun mentioned the construction of the new school. Calhoun said they had been encouraged by legislators to begin using some of the $15 million, so the money is not pulled back for lack of use. Calhoun said they would likely put the funds toward completing architect plans and site work, which would cost about $4 million. But, that would also require a local match from the county. He said he would want to work on a repayment plan with the commissioners through sales tax revenue.