Staffing key need

The Sampson Board of Commissioners will mull budget requests further over the next two months in an effort to approve a 2015-16 plan by June 30.

County budget requests will be dissected over the next couple months in an effort to alleviate a sizable shortfall, meaning some departments may be left in the cold regarding some personnel, equipment and infrastructure needs.

Several departments are requesting extra bodies for 2015-16 to help with the load on current full-time workers. Previous requests for additional personnel were approved for Public Works and the Department of Social Services. Now a few others are hoping for the same assistance.

That includes the Tax Office, whose requested 2015-16 budget is $1,279,246, an increase of $18,950 compared to the current fiscal year budget. Of that amount, $14,000 encompasses a request for a part-time position.

“We currently have one business personal property appraiser on staff and are unable to adequately process the growing number of accounts. In order to ensure that ample time is given to all accounts and each listing to eliminate possible errors, I feel that this request is a necessity,” said Tax administrator Jim Johnson. “With approximately 2,600 accounts it is extremely difficult to respond to all phone calls, emails and appointment requests with one staff person.”

Recently, hundreds of accounts listing with personal property were moved over to the business department leaving staff strapped and no time to search for and locate unlisted business property.

“With the additional part-time position we would be able to contact the municipalities to inquire about new businesses, check UCC filings for unlisted property and even conduct field reviews for unlisted businesses,” Johnson noted.

Board of Elections director Ashley Tew included an oft-discussed staffing situation in her department.

The Board of Elections office currently has an Administrative Support Specialist I, who is split between the Elections and Veterans offices, and one part-time clerk. Tew has requested that position become full-time with the Elections Office, while keeping the part-time clerk position. She said new voting equipment is still being required by the state, even though it is not included in the budget request.

“…Acknowledging the county’s other pressing needs in multiple departments, we have not requested any money be put aside for equipment this year,” Tew stated. “We do note, however, that the equipment upgrade will remain a future budget items that will have to be addressed in total when the state mandates.”

County Extension director Eileen Coite pointed to a similar trickle-down effect that is affecting her budget, and county funding needed for it.

The Cooperative Extension budget includes an increase of $62,194 over the current 2014-15 budget due to decreased funding from the N.C. State University Cooperative Extension budget over the past two decades that has brought cutbacks vital to sustaining the service. The local Extension budget for this year is likewise down $27,434 from 2013-14’s fiscal plan.

“Due to the combination of these needs and changes, total salary and benefit needs for the Cooperative Extension Department has increased,” Coite stated. “Specifically, this has tasked Cooperative Extension with the need for our two support staff positions to become 100 percent county funded.”

Similar help is being requested by the Emergency Management director Ronald Bass for the Communications, Rescue and EMS departments.

Emergency Management has requested a net increase of $54,153 in tax support, encompassing lease payments of $17,672 to replace a phone system that is 20 years old and has discontinued parts, as well as $4,264 in increases for gasoline. The budget also reflects a reduction of $32,285 in grant and fire inspection fee revenues.

On the Communications side, there are 16 full-time 911 telecommunicators who work 12-hour rotating shifts. Just working those shifts, employees receive a large amount of compensation time. That, along with vacation and sick leave, makes part time staff “imperative,” Bass said.

“In the last several years, we have exhausted our part-time funds prior to the end of the budget year. In the 911 Center when someone is our for whatever reason, they must be replaced with another trained person. Staffing shortages cause a delay in service, therefore we have requested an increase of $11,000 in our part-time salaries to cover shortages in staffing.”

Bass said there are a few areas of “pressing need” for Sampson EMS that must be met in 2015-16 to offer the best service. To that end, Sampson County EMS has requested a $220,904 increase in its budget over the 2014-15 budget.

One of those needs is the replacement of two ambulances and one QRV (quick response vehicle), which accounts for more than half the overall increase in the budget request at $114,718. Last year, Sampson County EMS requested replacing two aging ambulances. The Board of Commissioners approved funds to replace one.

“Our needs to replace our aging fleet continue and this year we are requesting to replace two ambulances which will be remounted and save the county approximately $80,000,” Bass stated, noting rising costs in other areas — insurance, as well as gas, oil and tires, being among them. “We continue to see an increase in the cost of products, coupled with the influx of demand for our services over the last several years. The demand for EMS services in Sampson County is growing every year.”

The county is currently facing a deficit of a little over $3.5 million, a roughly 9 cent tax increase, to fund all requests.

Other requests include net increases of $250,210 for Clinton City Schools and $661,310 for Sampson County Schools due to a proposed per-pupil funding hike of $70 (8 percent) — the county currently pays $880 — to $950. Clinton City Schools initially asked for $1,050.

The Sampson Community College capital outlay request is $1,990,236 above the funded amount in the current fiscal year, with the total net tax support of the 2015-16 request standing at $2.53 million. That does not include a request for funds for the construction of a Nursing and Allied Health Building for $8 million.

The Sheriff’s Office’s request reflects a net increase of $167,028 in tax support over this year. That includes an additional $39,000 to replace equipment for the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, an additional $59,000 to pay for the courthouse security guards, $16,800 for sound and flash suppressors for rifles and five tactical shotguns and $10,000 for uniforms for courthouse security deputies.

The board previously voted to set aside $450,000 to replace the roof at the Agri-Exposition Center, also included in the proposed budget.

During talks last week, Commissioner Clark Wooten proposed closing both the recreation department, whose $655,737 budget for 2015-16 would receive $610,952 from taxpayers, as well as the county’s Transportation Program, set to receive $214,040 in taxpayer dollars in 2015-16. He also suggested reducing the Agri-Exposition Center’s requested $305,358 budget by an additional $72,000, as well as deducting $100,000 from the library system’s $715,126 budget.

No cuts have been made to the requests, although board members did express their desire to see no tax hike.

Sampson County managerial staff is not recommending funding requests by the Coharie Intra-Tribal in the amount of $15,000 to continue improvements to its facility; the Sampson High School Alumni Association in the amount of $50,000 for renovation and upkeep of its facility; or Harrells Community Center in the amount of $20,000 to pursue another phase of its building project

County staff recommended maintaining the allocation for Sampson County History Museum at its current $56,100. The museum has annual costs of $88,496, according to staff.

The budget will be further discussed at the board’s May 4 meeting, at which time County manager Ed Causey is expected to inform commissioners when his proposed budget will be ready.