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News Commissioners approve $45.7 million budget

Employee compensation pay plan put on hold indefinitely

Monday night, in a unanimous vote, the Macon County Board of Commissioners voted to adopt the $45,721,122 budget for fiscal year 2014-15. When the budget was originally brought before the board by county manager Derek Roland, the proposed budget was $1.6 million less than the current year’s budget. After hearing advice from the board and other stakeholders in the planning process, Roland amended the budget to reflect an additional $200,000, which puts the final budget around $1.4 million less than what the county is operating under during this fiscal year.

Highlights of the budget include $199,035 in capital outlay funding for Macon County Schools to continue improving the district’s infrastructure; a one time $30,000 allocation to REACH of Macon County to aid in the construction of a new shelter; $39,400 for operational expenses needed by Southwestern Community College; new vehicles for the MCSO to ensure proper response times; an additional employee for the Macon County garage; and an additional employee for emergency services.

The proposed budget was made possible due to some tough cuts that commissioners grappled with. One of the toughest came under the decision to not fund the second phase of the employee compensation plan.

The compensation pay plan, which was put into place after a study showed Macon County employees were grossly underpaid, was due for a $500,000 increase that would implement a 4 percent increase for employees who have served eight years in their current positions and a .5 percent increase for years served beyond eight years. Roland stated that he hopes as funds become available in future years, this will be able to be funded eventually.

Adhering to commissioners’ request to continue services, Roland was able to construct a budget that included no county-wide tax increase while still maintaining the level and quality of services to residents. Although there was no county-wide tax increase, the budget that obtained a 5-0 vote Monday night does include two tax increases for individual fire districts in order to provide the departments with needed upgrades.

Cowee Heritage Center gets needed upgrade

During the regularly scheduled June meeting, Roland informed commissioners that a piece of equipment was needed at the Cowee Heritage Center in order for the kitchen to pass code.

Commissioners have invested resources in the old Cowee School to preserve the old schoolhouse in order to provide Macon County residents with a facility for cultural and heritage enhancements. The building is currently utilized by residents teaching spinning, pottery, musical classes, painting, and other activities. The Cowee kitchen was designated since the project’s inception to be of use to residents for cooking classes and for things such as canning vegetables.

When use of the building changed from public school to community use, it meant that the building had to be brought up to current fire code. The fire suppression system for the kitchen, the ANSUL system, was out of date and no longer met code, explained Stacy Guffey, who was contracted to coordinate the Cowee project. “So, the money approved by the commissioners was for the replacement of that system to make the kitchen safe and to meet current North Carolina fire code. If we aren't up to code, we can't re-certify the kitchen for public use which also means we can't charge user fees and thereby generate income for the operation of the school,” he said. “We were able to find an area company to install a refurbished system, so it looks like the cost will come in well below what was allocated by the commissioners.”

Guffey explained that there's a lot of demand for use of the kitchen from benefits and reunions to cooking and canning classes. “For a lot of farmers and small businesses the cost of a commercial grade kitchen to add value to their products is way out of reach,” said Guffey. “The new ANSUL system brings us one step closer to providing an affordable place for those folks to do business.”

In a split vote, commissioners approved the $2,600 needed to upgrade the ANSUL system of the kitchen. Paul Higdon, who represents the Cowee district, and Ron Haven, who represents District II, voted against funding the project.


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