May 22, 2013
The Dare County Budget: Separating
the wheat from the ‘shaft’ – Part 2
By SANDY SEMANS ROSS
one person showed up during the public comment period of the May 20
meeting of the Dare County Board of Commissioners to speak about the
county’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
But later in the meeting, the commissioners had plenty to say.
employees also have opinions to share but spoke with Island Free Press
on the condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation. Few were
in attendance toward the end of Monday’s meeting when talk turned back
to the budget. The video isn’t posted yet nor has it been shown on the
Government Channel, but word travels fast among employees and they
aren’t liking what they are hearing.
“I’ve sat at this desk – or
one like it – for more than two decades,” said a long-term county
employee. “I’ve always been proud of what we do and been happy to work
here. But now, the morale is about as bad as you can imagine. I don’t
get why they can’t see how we are hurting financially in our private
lives or why they seem to think we should thank them for cutting us so
much. It’s not a good time to work for Dare County – things are ugly,
and now they are trying to pit the ones at the bottom against the ones
at the top – that’s awful. It’s not fun here anymore.”
commissioners are voicing opposition to County Manager Bobby Outten’s
proposal to include a three percent cost of living allowance (COLA) for
county employees and to contract for a new salary study, the results of
which could be implemented over a period of a few years.
wanting to reduce services or increase taxes during the last few years,
the county has sought to balance the budget, in part, by eliminating or
freezing positions and by cutting employees’ fringe benefits.
last COLA given to county employees was 1.5 percent for fiscal year
2008-09. Since then, said Outten, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has
gone up 9 percent. “So they’ve had no raise, and they’ve lost buying
In 2009, the county reduced its contribution to
employees’ 401K to 1 percent and cut both longevity and merit pay by
half. In 2010, the 401K contribution was eliminated as was the
An employee who has worked for the county for 12
years told Island Free Press that the cuts coupled with no raises is
hurting her financially.
“When I bought my house in 2004, I
was careful about thinking how I was going to pay for it and for my
son’s college tuition that began a year ago,” she said. “I know that no
one had a crystal ball to see what was going to happen to the economy,
but I never expected to go backwards. Everything has gone up but with
cutting the longevity pay, my income is less than I planned for. It is
a struggle to try to keep up with everything.”
explaining the need to contract for a new salary study, told the board:
“We have a problem with compression. New hires are making almost as
much or the same as someone who has been here nine or 10 years. Then
they [long term employees] can’t understand why someone new is making
about the same. We are having to hire at higher levels to fill
Referring to a suggestion offered by Commissioner
Bob Woodard, Commissioner Virginia Tillett wondered aloud if since the
board isn’t in the position to give everyone a raise, if the employees
would understand if just some received extra compensation.
Woolard suggested that only those making $40,000 and under receive a COLA.
“Why do we have to do a salary study? Can’t we figure that out ourselves?” asked Tillett.
can’t just compare a secretary to a secretary [somewhere else] – we
have to know the tasks they perform. We were going to do another pay
study a few years after the last one but couldn’t afford it,” said
Commissioner Richard Johnson strongly objected to both
the COLA and the $42,000 to pay for the salary study being included in
“If we do a salary study, be ready for $1.5 million
[increase in payroll],” said Johnson. “They [in the last salary study]
compared us to Duck, not Currituck or Carteret. We can’t compete with
the towns. People in the county are not as wealthy as they are in the
towns. We are trying to adjust a budget – take the money and divide it
and give everyone the same.
“I’m not going to vote for the
budget because I won’t support a tax increase. Everyone is doing the
same thing as five years ago. Our top people compete well when you
compare to other counties – truck drivers are making the same. I’m not
about to increase to revenue neutral and then add more on to it – we
need to make government smaller.”
Cuts in staffing over the last
few years have added tasks to many job descriptions in different
departments. As an example, in Planning Department, the positions of
zoning administrator and CAMA officer have been eliminated and those
duties added to the work load of the county planner.
Allen Burrus said it isn’t easy to compare to other counties. “I don’t
want to take my trash to a dump – nothing against Currituck – I just
don’t want to live like that. We can’t compare [to other counties]
without looking at all of it.”
“I’m just making comments,” said
Woodard, “just voicing my concerns. The 2013 MAPS study by the School
of Government shows our salaries at 10 percent of the top, but Dare
County has a 25 percent higher cost of living. In the private sector,
the average salary is $37,500. Dare County’s average is $40,000.”
added that he would like to see raises go to the lower wage-earners.
“Those are the ones I want to see helped,” he added, noting increases
in insurance and other items. “I’m struggling with having a tax
increase on top of the revenue neutral rate.”
Shea said that after his first review of the proposed budget, he didn’t
think it could be cut any more. “Now, I think we should look for more
Johnson said that when the county employees’ wages
and benefits are compared to what he received while working for
Sprint, the county employees are doing well.
“To have a good job
in this economy is a blessing. This salary study (School of
Government’s MAP study) should be posted online so everyone can see it.
I made the same [while working for Sprint] as those who worked in other
counties even though we have a higher cost of living.
Max Dutton said that each year the decision is made not to cut
services. “But my one concern is that since 2008, nothing has been for
the county employees except cuts. I don’t want to increase taxes, but I
don’t want to cut services and hate not doing anything for employees.
Why would you point out certain people not to give a raise to?”
revenue neutral rate is a tax increase on those who live west of the
bypass,” said Johnson. “If we have to cut contributions to other groups
to give our employees a raise – that’s fine,” he said referring to
Commission Chairman Warren Judge
suggested if there were concerns about the donations to nonprofits,
then the board could go through them and strike out what they disagreed
with. No one indicated that they were willing to rise to the task.
Judge told the board that the members needed to give Outten some direction on what changes they want made to the budget.
Johnson said that the title of the budget is the County Manager’s Budget and that it is Outten’s responsibility to make changes.
State law mandates that it is the board’s responsibility to set the budget.
hunkered down and stayed with the program during the recession, but it
is time they stop saying that they can’t increase taxes to give us some
relief,” said a county employee nearing retirement. “The argument that
people can’t afford a tax increase – we pay taxes, too. And insurance
and gas and groceries and doctor bills – and now we have to pay more
toward our health insurance so our hole is getting deeper and deeper.”
said that when he heard there are commissioners who think that the
county employees don’t need or deserve a raise, his first thought was
“This is the Kingdom of Dare.”
His second thought – some are saying “Let ‘em eat cake.”
Budget discussions will continue at the next Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, June 3, at 9 a.m.