The proposed budget that interim County Manager Ricky Harris presented the county Board of Commissioners last week eliminates 17 positions that are now vacant, but preserves that of county manager, which has been empty since Ken Windley resigned it several months ago.
The commissioners don’t seem to be in a rush to fill the position, having yet to advertise it, and are probably pleased to see its salary used for other needs. Many believe that Harris has the inside track for the county manager’s job. If so, his front-runner status benefited from what was a good week for the interim manager — assuming he does covet the manager’s position on a permanent basis.
First, assistant manager Rod Jenkins resigned to take a position in the health field in Cumberland County, therefore removing himself from consideration for the county manager’s job here. Jenkins takes with him an impressive resume, one that would have positioned him well for a bid for county manager — assuming that the process was open — but he left on the high road, saying his passion was the health field.
We don’t want to imply that Harris is glad to see potential competition gone; our read is the opposite. Jenkins’ departure is clearly a loss for our county government, and means more work now and probably later for Harris.
Harris should also benefit from the proposed budget he presented the commissioners, which will make a lot of people happy, specifically tens of thousands of property owners and hundreds of county workers. The proposal was remarkably painless during a time when local governments are gasping for revenue.
Harris made true the county board’s promise to reduce the tax rate by 2 cents in exchange for the approval through a referendum last August of a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax. Harris was hamstrung by the fact that additional revenue from the sales-tax hike has not meet projections because of the depressed economy, but he managed to make the numbers work.
He also found money to give county employees a 2 percent cost-of-living increase, which is fitting since the elimination of jobs in recent years has meant more work for the survivors. It was their first raise in three years, meaning they were actually taking pay cuts because the cost of living, groceries and gassing up the vehicle, has inched upward.
And there wasn’t a single county worker who was laid off.
The commissioners still must approve the budget, and it likely will undergo a few adjustments, but it’s clear that the county ducked the gut shots that just weeks ago seemed guaranteed.
If Harris does pursue the county manager’s job, he can add to his resume the successful crafting of a county budget during difficult economic times. It was a good audition.