Despite several signs that spell a Sampson resurgence — a successful loan refinancing, upturns in sales and tax revenue projections and new industrial prospects on the horizon — county staff is eyeing permanent cuts that will pave the way for a pay plan implementation.
County manager Ed Causey has alluded to it numerous times, driving the point home that everything is up for consideration in making those cuts. He emphasized that again at the Board of Commissioners meeting, saying substantive discussions have already taken place, with more to follow.
“There are lots of discussions and a lot of work that is going on right now talking about our cost efficiencies and cost savings that we’ll be working on for the next several years,” said Causey. “Occassionally, (commissioners are) probably going to get a phone call saying ‘what are those crazy people up to?’ I’ve had one or two of them myself.”
While Causey has attested budget planning is a year-round endeavor, the need for foresight is compounded in the coming years by the implementation of an already-approved pay plan. That plan is dependent on cuts being made to fund its $3.7 million price tag.
Work began last month toward examining county operations with the aim of slashing nearly $350,000 for 2016-17 and in future years.
Leading up to the county’s budget adoption in June, Causey said the county’s administrative staff would be meeting with department heads. The first round of those discussions occurred this past month and the county manager said numerous ideas toward cost savings are on the table — and will be explored further in the months to come.
“We are discussing lots of things,” Causey said. “If someone has brought it up and told us to look at it, we are going to vet it and be giving you a lot of information as the year goes on. We’re after cost savings, but we’re also looking at efficiencies. Some of the things we’re looking at are going to be long-term. Other things we may look at are (areas) where there may be more potential for savings than what I anticipated.”
The pay plan, to be implemented over four years, includes roughly $1.1 million and matching fringes for the 2015-16 budget, while calling for an additional $1,193,391 in real permanent savings over the next four years, necessitating a reduction of $345,497 starting in the 2016-17 budget.
“We’re going to be looking at a wide range of things,” the county manager has said. “I think what we’re going to have is a substantive process over the next couple years, looking not just at cost reductions but improving efficiencies and better ways of doing business. Sending people home is our last option but at the end of the day we’re not going to discount anything.”
The county manager has reiterated many times to board members that he is responsible for showing “real cuts” to the budget in order to implement the pay plan, a long-discussed measure that commissioners can choose to halt at any time if they so choose, he conceded.
By November, Causey noted, he hopes to have a plan for real cuts to commissioners, who could opt for the county manager to go back to the drawing board if they are not satisfied. He would then plan to return with a modified proposal in December.
That effort started with a list of more than a dozen items to be reviewed. That list can be added to at any point.
“The good part of this is we can go in and have a discussion on anything,” the county manager noted. “No one (department) needs to feel like they’re going to be singled out because I will expect over the next three years we will have a lot of discussions.”
Just because county administrative staff and department heads discuss and review elimination or reduction of various line items does not mean those will materialize into recommendations to commissioners. On the other hand, some very well may — it is an ongoing process, Causey said, one that will take “not two or three days or weeks, but awhile to put together,” he said.
“We have a lot of people who are taking this very seriously,” Causey remarked. “We think we’re going to actually do a lot of good things before it’s all over with.”
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.