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Cumberland commissioners discuss funding for outside agencies

A budget work session also included talk about employee compensation


The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday took its first hard look at the proposed fiscal 2023 budget. 

The recommended budget — which includes the general fund, county school fund and capital investment fund — totals about $410.3 million. The proposed budget keeps the county's tax rate at 79.9 cents per $100 of assessed property.

County Manager Amy Cannon told the commissioners at their special called meeting that she and her staff were open to questions about the budget.

"We can go through a couple of schedules if you would like: new vehicles, new positions, that kind of thing, but we were going to see what the pleasure of the board was this evening,’’ she said. 

Commissioners Glenn Adams, Toni Stewart, Jeanette Council and Jimmy Keefe attended the budget work session. 

Keefe started by voicing his concerns about the current state of the economy and how it affects the county's ability to function. 

"It's a solid budget," he said. But he expressed concern about accelerated prices of goods and services the county requires to operate, and that a proposed 4% cost-of-living adjustment for all county employees will not suffice because of the 8.5% inflation rate. 

"Are we going to be held hostage until next year or is there a long-term plan?" he asked. “Everything is going up. Is this a sustainable budget? Is next year going to be a double-whammy?" 

Cannon said recurring expenditures in this budget are offset by recurring revenues.

"We appropriated less in fund balance this year compared to the last two budget years," she said. Cannon said the budget is sustainable and funds the commissioners' priorities. 

Stewart, the board’s vice chairwoman, jumped to funding outside agencies and took exception to some not being funded.

“It's challenging for me to be OK with that," she said. 

In fiscal 2022, Cumberland County funded 15 outside agencies for a total of $486,042. The fiscal 2023 recommended budget funds the same outside agencies at the same amount.

This year, 17 outside agencies requested funding totaling $628,869. The two new agencies were Cumberland Health Net Inc. and the North Carolina Symphony Society. Cumberland Health Net Inc. requested $41,600; the North Carolina Symphony Society requested $5,000. Neither were recommended for funding in the proposed budget. 

Cumberland Health Net Inc. was established in 2009. Its mission is to help uninsured residents of Cumberland County access health services. 

Stewart at first suggested taking money from the Salvation Army and giving it to Cumberland Health Net. The Salvation Army's proposed allocation is $29,750, the same as last year. 

Last year the Arts Council of Fayetteville-Cumberland County Inc. received $68,000 in the budget. Although the Arts Council requested $75,000, the proposed budget keeps the proposed allocation at $68,000. 

Cannon said Cumberland Health Net Inc. was not funded because the county wanted to maintain the same funding allocations and thus limit growth in the budget. 

Adams, the board chairman, suggested that since there was a pandemic for the past two years, the Arts Council may not have spent all of its money.

Adams said he thought money should be moved from the Arts Council to Health Net for those who don’t have insurance. He said the Arts Council receives part of the occupancy tax, which should have gone up this year.

The board recommended taking $30,000 from the Arts Council to fund Health Net. It also recommended taking another $3,000 from the Arts Council for the Vision Resource Center, which had asked for $10,000 but was getting $7,000. That final amount recommended for the Arts Council was $35,000. 

Employee compensation

The board also discussed employee compensation. Adams asked Cannon if she put enough money in the budget to address human resources issues. 

"We all got those letters," Adams said. The commissioners received various communications about salary and salary compression. 

"The recommended budget includes $95,000 to conduct a (compensation) study," Cannon said. 

She said the county did not have enough employees or skill sets to conduct such a study. In a previous but limited study in 2018 and 2019, Cannon said the county found that minimum salaries were problematic at the time, which affected county recruitment.  

"Other employers and inflation outpaced us significantly," she said of the preliminary findings.  

Adams said he wanted to ensure the issue was on the county's radar. 

The compensation study will have recommendations for the board to consider, probably in the fiscal year 2024 budget, according to Brian Haney, assistant county manager. 

Stewart asked about eliminating positions that have been vacant for longer times and taking the savings for other employee compensation programs. 

"Employees are struggling. Part of the reason that we're losing employees is first, the emotional stress of the pandemic, and then, on top of that, the high number of vacancies. We have employees working overtime and given additional job functions," Cannon said.  

Cannon said she hopes the market will turn, and it will become an employer market and not an employee market.

Cumberland County, Board of Commissioners, budget, outside agencies