First public hearing on Chatham proposed budget focuses on compensation for Board of Elections

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PITTSBORO — The first of two public hearings regarding the proposed Chatham County budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year took place during the Chatham County Board of Commissioners meeting at the Historic Courthouse Monday night.

At the hearing, members of the Chatham County Board of Elections told commissioners the proposed budget did not go far enough in providing them with competitive compensation. They argued the board is underfunded by the county. Only three members of the public signed up to speak at the hearing, all were from the BOE.

Mark Barroso, one of the members on the BOE, said the commissioners have an obligation to set the salaries of elections members based on its recommendations. He said the commissioners failed to do that.

“The Board of Elections, not the Board of Commissioners, has the statutory power to set the salaries,” he said. “Four different North Carolina judges have ruled the Board of Elections gets to set the salaries and the county gets to pay them.”

Barroso and his colleagues said they made several written appeals to the commissioners office to approve requests for salaries. The board of elections voted unanimously to send requests to the commissioners for increased funding for the office.

In other counties like Graham, where similar concerns were raised in 2007, its board of elections took the county to court before winning rights to set salaries. The North Carolina Court of Appeals has also previously ruled compensation to the board of elections directors “shall be commensurate with the salary paid to directors in counties similarly situated and similar in population and number of registered voters.”

Barroso said he believes the county is feeling the negative impact of not complying with this ruling because elections workers are leaving office.

“Election staff around the county are quitting in droves because of physical and personal assaults by unhinged citizens,” Barroso said. “Chatham County must remain competitive to keep and attract good people.”

Barroso said county staff and commissioners have ignored his requests.

Karen Howard, the chairperson of the commission board, said those issues were important conversations to have as the county works to finalize its budget over the next two months.

“I’m proud of Chatham County for having a bipartisan Board of Elections come forward and support this effort,” Howard said. “We did an independent pay study and I think that matters. It matters that the salaries are commensurate with other departments depending on the number of employees supervised.”

She said the proposed salary increases by the BOE were dramatic changes, but a good starting place for continuing conversation.

The proposed budget presented by the county to commissioners calls for a 7% increase in pay for all county employees to keep them competitive with neighboring counties. Howard said there was no request by the BOE director for a salary increase in this budget.

A second public hearing on the proposed budget was scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Siler City.

Work sessions for the budget will be held at 9 a.m. May 24-26 at the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center. The budget committee said it aims to present a final budget by June 21. The state mandates all county budgets be submitted by June 30.

Prior to the budget public hearing, Monday’s meeting also heard a presentation from the Wastewater Study Commission for Northeast Chatham County. The commission discussed possible intermediate and long term solutions for wastewater management issues.

The wastewater commission said there is a high level of discharge in the county related to infrastructure issues at the Fearrington Village, Chatham County Water Treatment and Cole Park Plaza. Discharge from wastewater is poised to double over the next two decades due to growth in the county, according to the commission’s presentation. More information about the wastewater commission and its presentation can be found in this week’s edition.

In other action, commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to back the Leandro Plan, which advocates for more funding in North Carolina schools to create a sound, basic education for all students.

Former state associate superintendent and current Commissioner Robert Logan said action by the state on this case was long overdue.

“This case is too long past,” Logan said. “It’s time the state of North Carolina steps up to its judiciary responsibility and accepts the finance of equity in education to all children. Too many children do not receive the opportunities they are entitled to because of the zip code in which they live.”

Commissioners also unanimously passed a resolution supporting state trail designation for the Haw River Trail. The resolution means the Haw River Trail will be added to the North Carolina State Park System, allowing state park staff to aid in the development of the trail and purchase land from willing property owners to complete the trail corridor.

The next full meeting of the board will begin at 1 p.m. on June 6 at the Historic Courthouse. For more information visit chathamcountync.gov.

Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at brappaport@chathamnr.com or @b_rappaport.

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