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Bonuses approved for Bertie employees

WINDSOR – They may only have a small one percent raise in one hand, but the other hand will soon be filled with a four-figure bonus.

The Bertie County Board of Commissioners adopted the FY 2021-22 budget here last week, only after hearing from several county workers – primarily DSS employees – who expressed frustration over such a small cost of living increase.

However, just prior to adopting the new $24,146,930 General Fund budget, the commissioners approved a one-time $1,500 bonus for all county workers.

At the outset of last week’s discussion about the pending budget, Bertie County Manager Juan Vaughan II said he had heard the comments regarding the small raise.

“We were able to keep our tax rate the same (86.5 cents per $100 of property value), but not everyone is completely thrilled about that one percent raise,” Vaughan told the board. “I understand that everyone wanted more after working through the pandemic. There are some plans to compensate for that in addition to the one percent. One percent is better than no percent.”

Vaughan presented a plan that called for using $743,677 of the county’s current $1.8 million share of the American Rescue Plan Act (federal funds) to cover premium pay and payroll expenses for local government employees who were devoted to mitigating and responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency March through June 2021.

His plan uses $411,145 to cover the payroll increase and $332,530 to cover the costs of the premium pay (bonuses).

“That leaves us a little of one million dollars to carry over into the 2021-22 fiscal year,” Vaughan noted.

He proposed spending that money on the HOME Consortium Grant, water infrastructure, IT firewall, needed items in Emergency Services, Elections equipment, tax department software, animal control shelter, and covering reoccurring expenses for the salary increases.

“That still leaves us with an unused balance of over a half million dollars,” Vaughan observed.

“That’s great because the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners has urged us to hold on to some of this money for matching grants down the road, hopefully for any broadband expansion in our county,” Board Chair Tammy Lee stated. “We are working to reserve some of this money for that.”

Commissioner John Trent noted that with hurricane season already underway, that’s another good reason for having a cash reserve.

“I’m extremely proud of this board; we’ve made some tough decisions…some that we didn’t want to make, but we had no other choice,” said Lee. “I would have loved to see our employees get a larger raise, but it couldn’t happen this year. I am grateful that this American Rescue money is in place and we were able to give them this $1,500 premium pay.”

“I was diehard for our county employees to get more than one percent; they haven’t seen a raise over the past couple of years,” said Commissioner Ron Roberson. “But the problem we came across was the debt we incurred when the county took over the Roxobel, Kelford, and Lewiston-Woodville water systems. We had to make upgrades to those water systems. We had to do that because the people living in those towns are Bertie County citizens and those towns couldn’t afford to maintain the upkeep on their water systems.”

By unanimous vote, the board approved the project ordinance as presented by Vaughan.

Vaughan noted that the county will receive a total of $3.6 million through the American Rescue Plan.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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