Several Hatteras Island-specific matters were discussed at the February 20th Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) Meeting, and the conversation continued for the Dare County Salary Study and ensuing county-wide pay adjustment as well.
The two issues directly tied to Hatteras Island were the pending merger of the Salvo and Chicamacomico Fire Departments, as well as two tasks that were requested to move forward with the short-term dredging of Hatteras Inlet.
Pending Merger of the Fire Departments
A brief informational presentation was given on the merging of the two tri-village fire departments – the Chicamacomico Banks Volunteer Fire Department and the Salvo Volunteer Fire Department – by Steve Kovacs, Dare County Fire Marshall, as well as Mike Daugherty, Chief of the Chicamacomico VFD, and Ervin Gaskins, the Assistant Chief of the Salvo VFD.
The aim of the presentation was to update the board on the progress of the merger, as well as to give the BOC a head’s up of action items that may be required down the line.
“This is a task that I’ve been working with the two fire departments [on] for about 2.5 years to get to this point,” said Kovacs. “We’ve had several meetings… and the members of both departments have really been working together to move this forward.”
“This is the fourth of fifth time this has come up over the decades,” said Daugherty. “[And] we’ve hopefully come to a near conclusion on said merger… We work frequently together, and we need each other.”
Daugherty listed several reasons why a merger was beneficial for the tri-village community. “The population of the three villages is between 450-500 people, and to draw a membership of 40 firefighters plus a board out of that small of a population is difficult,” he said. “By merging, we bring that minimum number down to 28 members, plus the board.”
He also noted that there would be community-wide financial benefits as well. Currently, the Chicamacomico Banks fire department has an insurance rating of 6, while the Salvo has an insurance rating of 9. The lower the rating, the better the rates, and once the merger occurs, all tri-village towns will collectively enjoy the lower 6 rating, resulting in a decrease in insurance.
“And after combining, a year later, we would get re-rated [for insurance,]” added Daugherty. “With our combined equipment and resources, we should be able to drop our rating down hopefully one more slot, which would be lower insurance payments in all three villages… A lot of people’s wallets would feel much better about that.”
Daugherty also noted that the level of service from the fire department would remain the same after the merger.
“There’s no differential in emergency calls. The sum of these two parts coming together is just going to strengthen the community itself… so this is a great thing,” said Daugherty.
At this point, the fire departments are getting the paperwork together required to complete the merge. They are hoping to have a sole, unified tri-villages fire department by mid-Spring.
“The annual meeting is the third Thursday of April, and we’re hoping that it will be the first annual meeting of the ‘new’ fire department,” said Daugherty.
It was noted that the BOC will need to give their approval for the new insurance district at a future date.
Hatteras Inlet Tasks
Two measures regarding the dredging of Hatteras Inlet were also discussed at the BOC’s February 20 Meeting.
County Manager Bobby Outten and Ken Wilson from Coastal Planning and Engineering (CP&E) outlined the status of the project, noting that the permits required to move forward were present or imminent. They also outlined what was needed from the BOC, which included two tasks.
“There is work that Ken has to do that isn’t in his current contract in terms of scope,” said Outten. “In order to more forward, we didn’t want to wait until we had the permits in hand, [and then get back to you], because then we would have wasted potentially 2-3 weeks of time that we could have been working and dredging.”
The first task was a request for funds not to exceed $27,060 to allow CP&E to utilize state permits to dredge Hatteras Inlet along existing channels.
“[This is] sort of a time and materials contract,” said Wilson in regards to task one. “We assume that over the course of a year, there might be three of these dredging events, so when you break that ‘First Task’ down, it breaks down to about $9,000 per dredge event.”
The second task regarded a request for a lump sum of $83,237, which would pay for CP&E to conduct an underwater archeological survey, or underwater cultural resource survey, in inlet areas that are outside the approved channel in order to continually follow the best waters for future dredging projects.
“[We have the go ahead to dredge] that specific channel that’s been dredged before, but the idea was to get a larger corridor so the Corps could basically follow wherever the deep water is,” explained Wilson. “If they can follow where the closet thing resembling a channel is, then that might cut down on the days that the Corps would be out there cutting those channels.
“For that greater area, we need to do that cultural resource survey, if you want to go outside the area that’s been dredged before.”
The board voted unanimously to approve task one, (the $27,060 funds.) As for task two, the board voted to wait on the $83,237 until they could determine if the state would match the funds provided by the county.
“The task one – for construction and administrative services – is something that we need to go ahead and get in place,” said Outten to the board. “It’s something that we’re got the money for – and [it’s] money that we’ve set aside for the inlet dredging, and we can handle that.
“The larger number, (the $83,000 number), if we went ahead and did that, and committed to that, it would be a big chunk of what we set aside to dredge down there now… I think we should wait on that side until a couple things occur: One is the budget cycle – [we need] to look at how we are going to fund Hatteras Inlet anyways, and two, we can go back to the state MOA and ask for that 25% matching grant from the state. We have to do that ahead of time,” said Outten. “Let’s go ahead and give ourselves an opportunity to get that grant.
“Let’s do what we need to do to keep the project going, and postpone task two.”
Dare County Salary Study
Several tweaks were also made to the new salary plan that was orchestrated at a special meeting in January, following the release of a requested Salary Study that showed Dare County was below average, on the whole, of similar tourism-based county economies.
Per Bobby Outten, the new salary plan entailed an increase of $3.6 million in wages for country employees, and a total pay increase of $4 million, including benefits.
The salary raises were not performance based at this time, but simply to get employees up to “market level,” according to Outten, and to hire and retain employees competitively.
The increase also assists with the county’s compression issues, or where longtime employees and new employees in similar positions were making similar amounts. “This resets the base, so going forward, we’re correct for future years. If we fund this thing correctly, we won’t be [in a future position] where we’re looking at paying millions of dollars to [correct discrepancies],” said Outten.
There were, however, several immediate issues that popped up during the sudden increase in salaries across the board, which were outlined by Outten and addressed in the BOC meeting. For example, these instances included scenarios where two supervisors would receive the same salaries, despite one being at the supervisor position for years longer.
Measures to correct these sorts of discrepancies included a unanimously approved measure to offset disparities for employees who were promoted more than five years ago.
In addition, effectively immediately, new county employees will be brought in below the newly established pay grade minimum to ensure that the new hires would not be making the exact same amount as personnel who were in the same position for a much longer time period. Per Outten, this action assists with a situation that arose where new employees who were brought in under the newly approved pay grade were making the exact same amount, or even more, than existing employees who may require two years for the pay increases to accumulate.
Outten also noted that any clerical errors with the survey increases – which were noted by several county employees – would be addressed internally and did not require BOC action.
At the end of the meeting, county commissioner Margarette Umphlett also announced her resignation, effective March 31. Citing personal reasons, Umphlett thanked her fellow board members for their friendship and support during her tenure. Umphlett was elected to the board in 2014, and the Republican Party of Dare County will choose a replacement to fill her seat until the November 2018 election.