LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to immediately end a deferred compensation plan that allows commissioners to draw a percentage of their salaries after they leave office.
The motion was made by Tom Taylor and seconded by Jerry Stephens, with the vote being unanimous except for Commissioner David Edge, who was not at the meeting.
Taylor, who was on the board when the deferred compensation plan was approved in 2005 and is up for re-election in November, left after the meeting before a reporter could get a comment.
The commissioners will be given the option of being reimbursed money they paid into the plan, or rolling that money into their 457 retirement plan.
The commissioners made no comments before voting to ditch the plan, which County Attorney Hal Kinlaw said has not met its goal of deferring the cost of commissioner salaries and saving the county money. A recent random survey of six neighboring counties found no other county paying their commissioners after they leave office.
“If the initial goal of the policy was to postpone or eliminate compensation so as to save taxpayers money, the policy is definitely not working,” Kinlaw said.
According to the current policy, the amount a commissioner receives after leaving office in deferred compensation is tied to the time he has served. After serving four years on the board, and having $100 a month withheld from his salary until withholdings total at least $6,000, a commissioner can draw 70 percent of his salary at the time he leaves office for a maximum of 15 years.
The only former commissioner drawing deferred compensation — about $780 a month — is Tommy Wellington. Wellington served as a commissioner from 2005 to 2010. Kinlaw and County Manager Ricky Harris both said Monday that now that the compensation plan has been canceled Wellington will no longer receive his monthly payment.
Harris is currently reviewing the pay and other benefits the commissioners receive, including salaries; travel stipends; health insurance; the retirement plan; and discretionary funds.
At Monday’s meeting, the commissioners also heard presentations from representatives of both the Robeson County Public Library System and Robeson County Humane Society that included requests for contributions from the commissioners discretionary funds.
“Earlier this year we met with many of you privately and gave our statistics showing how each of our surrounding counties as well as some peer counties supported their county library systems,” said Horace Stacy, a library system trustee. “Robeson County, one of the state’s 52 county libraries, had the lowest funding, per capita, of any other county library in the state.”
Stacy told the board that the library system had requested that the commissioners increase its allocation in the fiscal year 2012-13 budget from $2.50 per resident to $3.50.
“You budgeted $2.88, less than a sixth of what Columbus County does per capita for less than one half of our county population,” he said.
Immediately after Stacy’s presentation, Taylor approached the trustee at the podium and presented him with a check for $5,000 from his discretionary fund.
Woodberry Bowen, president of the Robeson County Humane Society, told the commissioners that his organization is receiving “virtually no government help,” and although the county’s allocation of $1,000 a year is greatly appreciated, his organization needs more funding in order to continue current services and expand services that will save the county money.
Bowen cited the increasing costs of caring for and adopting out animals; maintaining the society’s “no kill” shelter; and administering the state spay/neuter program. He said that the services provided by the Humane Society is saving the county money.
Bowen told the commissioners the county Humane Society is requesting financial assistance so the organization can continue reducing domestic animal overpopulation and finding suitable permanent homes for county animals.
Kinlaw said after the meeting that discretionary money is not designed to be allocated to such groups.
“Discretionary money is supposed to go to the individual districts and not to a central area (such as just Lumberton),” he said. “Discretionary money is supposed to remain in the individual districts to stimulate the schools and the community … . Not that Lumberton should not get anything. It’s our county seat, our shining star. But this (discretionary funds) was not designed to be used in one central area.”
In other business, the commissioners on Monday:
— Heard a presentation about Progress Energy’s Neighborhood Energy Saver Program, an energy efficiency program that targets low income customers, and will be offered Fairmont, Maxton and Rowland beginning in mid-November.
The program offers each qualified resident a home energy assessment; installation of several energy conservation measures; and energy education that will enable the residents to make behavioral changes to reduce and control energy usage.
— Heard a report about the success of the county’s Relay for Life team. Mitszi Whitaker, a team co-captain, said that for the second consecutive year the team was the highest money-raising team in Robeson County. She said last year the team raised more than $33,000 and hopes to surpass that amount this year.
— Approved a resolution supporting the Project Mule Building Restoration Project application for a grant from the N.C. Rural Center. The money would be used to help renovate a vacant building to house an industry planning to locate in the county. The industry has not been identified publicly.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.