City personnel costs questioned


First Posted: 5/21/2009

Though they applauded the fact Mount Airys proposed budget includes no property tax or utility rate hikes, speakers at a hearing Thursday night still had plenty to say about money allocated for personnel.
This category appears to be growing, city resident John Pritchard said during a public hearing required before the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners takes action on the 2009-10 municipal spending plan.
Pritchard added that he was concerned about the ratio of personnel costs to the total budget. That figure averages 40 percent for the state, according to research by the local citizen, but in Mount Airy the ratio is 63 percent for the present fiscal year.
The preliminary budget for the upcoming fiscal year that starts on July 1 is even higher at 65 percent, Pritchard said.
It means only one budget dollar out of three is available for the numerous other equipment, debt payment and infrastructure needs, Pritchard continued.
The proposed general fund budget for 2009-10 totals $11.7 million. That is about 14 percent less than the $13.5 million being spent this fiscal year.
Paul Eich, another citizen who spoke during the public hearing, echoed some of Pritchards concerns about the municipal personnel costs, saying he also believes too much is being committed to that area.
He pointed out that no cuts in manpower are forecast in next years budget, although the package does fund five fewer positions compared to this year due to not filling jobs of employees who have retired or resigned.
Eich also said that while the goal of the proposed budget appears to be holding the line on the citys existing work force, he believes hard decisions will be required in the future to maintain that stance.
Next fiscal year will be the second in a row with no cost-of-living raises for municipal workers. That means Mount Airy officials could face the need to weed out unproductive employees in order to increase pay for those who are performing well and deserve raises, Eich said.
Youre going to have to make a hard decision, he told city officials, adding that the 65-percent budget ratio has to change.
Despite concerns raised about personnel expenses, hearing speakers said they appreciated the conservative stance the budget reflects. Eich called the plan a step in the right direction.
Even if the motivation comes with the nearness of the fall election, Pritchard said of the proposed budget, at least its a good start. The seats of two members of the city commission, as well as the mayor, are up for grabs this year.
The commissioners and other city officials had no response to comments at Thursday nights public hearing. Mayor Jack Loftis announced that the meeting would be recessed until next Thursday at 9 a.m., when the council will conduct a workshop on the budget.
A property tax rate of 58 cents per $100 of assessed valuation is recommended for the next fiscal year, down a penny from this year.
Closed Session Held
After the budget hearing and other business had been completed Thursday night, city officials held a closed session to discuss a personnel matter. However, no confirmation was given concerning whether the closed-door meeting relates to an unresolved contract situation with City Manager Don Brookshire.
A contract that Brookshire did have with the city expired on March 31, and he since has worked without a formal employment agreement. Board members opted not to renew that contract over concerns that golden parachute provisions it included were too lucrative for a small town in a tight economy.
Under those stipulations, Brookshire was to receive certain considerations should he be terminated without cause, including a minimum severance payment equal to one year of his salary. Other provisions included being paid for accrued vacation time, sick leave, paid holidays and executive leave, among other terms.
Several closed meetings have been conducted in recent months, presumably aimed at forging details of a new employment contract that are acceptable to both sides. Board members have said that Brookshires performance has not been an issue in their contracting concerns.
The city manager undergoes periodic evaluations from the commissioners. Responding to questions of whether the closed session was to either discuss a new contract for Brookshire or conduct an evaluation, City Attorney Hugh Campbell said its purpose was to discuss personnel. And the manager is an employee of the board.
No action was planned afterward. Any vote relating to the contract must occur in public.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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