Saturday, April 20, 2024

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Commissioners tighten purse strings as fiscal year enters its final quarter

Commissioners say no to bailing out adult daycare and raises for landfill staff

Alamance County’s commissioners kept a rather firm grip on the public purse this week as they deflected a number of “urgent” spending requests amid their own preparations for the county’s next annual budget.

The commissioners ultimately decided to wait for the budget to address one mid-year request from the county’s landfill director, who approached them on Monday with a request for an emergency pay raise to halt what he construed as a rash of defections among his subordinates.

A majority of the commissioners also rejected a proposed bailout for an adult daycare center that serves developmentally and cognitively impaired individuals. The center’s director has sought this $40,000 financial lifeline as she and her colleagues prepare to move into a new county-owned building that was constructed with the proceeds from a private donor who wanted better accommodations for the adult daycare program.

In the meantime, the commissioners didn’t even render a verdict on a third proposal for $6.5 million in federal pandemic relief funds to bankroll a “tiny home” community for homeless veterans. The director of the local veterans office had asked the commissioners to pledge these funds in order to convince a Kansas City organization to set up the proposed veterans community in Alamance County. [See separate story in this edition.]

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No cash for trash
The first supplicant who went away empty handed on Monday was Richard Hill, the director of Alamance County’s landfill.

Hill had originally approached the commissioners at an annual budget retreat last week to request an hourly pay hike that he hoped would stem a tide of turnover among the landfill’s staff. During his return visit on Monday, Hill reiterated his earlier justification for this $2 increase, which he proposes to distribute to 19 of the facility’s 22 employees.

“The reasons for the request were twofold. One is to try to stop the hemorrhaging of employees. We’ve had about 100 percent turnover in the last year. It is also to increase the salaries to attract their replacements.” – Landfill director Richard Hill

“The reasons for the request were twofold,” the landfill’s director went on to recall. “One is to try to stop the hemorrhaging of employees. We’ve had about 100 percent turnover in the last year. It is also to increase the salaries to attract their replacements.”

Richard Hill (from a previous appearance at county commissioners’ meeting).

Hill told the commissioners that this increase could be wrapped into the county’s next annual budget. He nevertheless encouraged them to authorize the raise sooner to prevent the loss of any more staff members and help him fill the three vacancies that the landfill currently has.

Like all of the landfill’s expenses, the funds to pay for these hikes would ultimately come from the facility’s own revenues. Even so, Hill told the commissioners that he still needed their go-ahead to shell out the $24,000 to cover the cost of these raises for the three remaining months of this fiscal year.

In response to the landfill director’s request, John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, acknowledged that he’d rather not sign off on these funds until the county’s next budget takes effect on July 1. Although the commissioners have previously authorized mid-year pay raises in December to address turnover in the county’s social services department, emergency medical services, and the sheriff’s detention division, Paisley insisted that any additional measures should wait for the start of the next financial cycle.

“Every single department could come to us and [claim] an immediate crisis situation. “So, I’m going to encourage us to do this in the budget versus each department [coming to us] every single meeting.” – County commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr.

“Every single department could come to us and [claim] an immediate crisis situation,” he added in reply to Hill’s plea on Monday. “So, I’m going to encourage us to do this in the budget versus each department [coming to us] every single meeting.”


The cost of ‘Friendship’
Paisley was even more stern in his response to Friendship Adult Day Services, which operates a daycare in Burlington for people with dementia and other mental disabilities.

Although this nonprofit program hasn’t traditionally received funds from the county, it has operated out of a county-owned building. Several years ago, the inadequacy of the daycare’s traditional home, inspired a local philanthropist to donate several million dollars for a brand new facility that the county has since constructed near its human services center off of Graham-Hopedale Road.

Yet, the completion of these digs has proven a bittersweet moment for the program’s director Connie Morse.

Earlier this month, Morse appeared before the commissioners to request $50,000 from the county to address a financial shortfall that she attributed largely to the coronavirus pandemic. According to Morse, this one-time bail out would cover the center’s expenses until June of this year, when she expects to start getting state reimbursements that fell off when the daycare was grounded at the height of the pandemic.

The commissioners initially balked at this request when Morse presented it on April 4. Yet, the center’s director was able to buy some additional time when member of the board’s audience spontaneously offered a $10,000 “loan” to tide her over until the commissioners convened their next regularly-scheduled meeting.

See coverage of the initial request and the audience member’s offer of a $10,000 loan after commissioners avoided response to adult daycare’s request for $50,000:

On Monday, Morse told the commissioners that she still hopes to repay this loan with whatever funds she can get from the county. In the meantime, she said that she has received an outright donation of $10,000 from a couple in Twin Lakes, which would reduce the county’s potential contribution from $50,000 to $40,000.

Morse went on to assure the commissioners that, thanks to these private bequests, she and her colleagues have met all the state certification requirements to reopen in their new county-owned home.

“The main thing,” she added, “is that we now have to have a dietician sign off on all of our meals…and we should get our certification in the next day or two to be able to open.”
Morse nevertheless told the commissioners that the daycare still needs the county’s financial support so it can continue to operate until the anticipated state reimbursements come in.

“I don’t want to open on Monday and close down in three weeks because we ran out of money,” she added. “We’ve been in this community for over 40 years. The people who use are services need them dearly…and I feel really sad that we may have to close and not reopen in the building we brought to the county.”

In response to Morse’s appeal, the county’s interim manager Sherry Hook conceded that the county could spot the adult daycare the requested funds – if, and only if, it takes on Friendship Adult Day Services as a contractor. Hook added that the county won’t be able to firm up this proposed relationship until Morse and her colleagues are actually operating the adult daycare.

Hook went on to inform the commissioners that the county’s administrators have already made the arrangements to accept Friendship as a contractor when the daycare reopens its doors.

“We’ve got the contract,” the interim county manager added. “It has to go through legal, and Connie [Morse] has to review it. But it’s ready to go.”

Hook told the commissioners that, if the contract is formally enacted, the county could use pandemic relief funds to cover $30,000 of Morse’s requested “advance.” She conceded, however, that the $10,000 which the center’s director has sought to repay the aforementioned loan would have to come from the county’s own financial reserves.

Morse’s renewed request for the bailout was welcomed by commissioner Pam Thompson, who had also encouraged her colleagues to extend this financial lifeline on April 4. Paisley,

however, proved a much tougher nut for the center’s director to crack.

During Monday’s proceedings, the board’s chairman observed that the county hasn’t done anything for the dozens of other nonprofits that have approached the commissioners for a share of the county’s pandemic relief funds. He also took Morse to task for her alleged failure to reduce expenditures during the pandemic, which he attributed to her organization’s current financial predicament.

“You did not cut back on staff. You did not cut back on hours,” he alleged. “Everybody else cut back because of Covid.”

Morse’s disputed Paisley’s charges of fiscal imprudence, noting that, aside from herself, the center’s whole staff was sidelined while the daycare was shuttered due to the pandemic.

She added that much of the staff has since returned to assist with the move into the new building – a milestone that was later delayed as the county pushed back its own schedule for completing the building’s construction.

Meanwhile, commissioner Craig Turner expressed some concerns about the precedent that the commissioners might set if they approved Morse’s requested bailout.

“The county is now sort of in the position of being a guarantor for a nonprofit in stress,” he told the rest of the county’s governing board. “I don’t think it’s the proper function of county government to serve as a guarantor under these circumstances.”

Thompson was ultimately joined by Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, in calling for the approval of Morse’s request – contingent on the resumption of her operations and the enactment of the proposed contract. This proposal was nevertheless opposed by Paisley and Turner, as well as commissioner Bill Lashley, who had previously been silent in the debate over Friendship’s bailout.

Although he shared some of the credit for the 2-to-3 vote which dashed Morse’s hopes, Lashley nevertheless hinted at the possibility that he’d reach a different decision if the request is renewed once the daycare is up and running.

“If she opens,” he told the rest of the board, “that changes the ball game.”

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