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Swain sets public hearing for proposed budget

Swain sets public hearing for proposed budget

Swain County will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. June 10 to give residents an opportunity to comment on the 2021-22 proposed county budget. 

After a number of budget workshops, County Manager Kevin King presented commissioners with the spending plan during a May 27 meeting. The total proposed budget of $19,488,575 includes increased pay for county employees, new county positions, establishing an animal control department and other capital project priorities. The property tax rate will remain at 36 cents per $100 of assessed value.

“We have tried to keep the interest of the taxpayer in mind at all times during this process,” King said in his budget message. “Literally hundreds of hours have been put forth into the requests, reviews, and the recommendations of this proposed budget.”

The commissioners discussed further implementation of an employee step plan to ensure employees are being paid adequately and to also help the county with recruitment and retention efforts. 

King said the county’s personnel committee was made up of 17 people this year and represented every county department. After holding several meetings to discuss how to retain qualified employees, the committee recommended to the board a step plan for the 2021-22 fiscal year. 

“This plan was created using other plans that the county uses as a template for starting salaries for new employees and benchmarks for veteran employees,” he said. “Over the years of working with the personnel committee the step plan has always been at the forefront of the conversation. Most governmental organizations in the state and country have similar plans for employee compensation.” 

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In addition to the step plan, the committee recommended a cost-of-living increase for employees that did not receive an increase within the salary plan. King said the COLA would be a one-time payout of $500, which means it wouldn’t impact salaries. King included the step plan in his budget proposal. 

“I served on the personnel committee and this is what they want. It does reward employees staying on with us,” said Commissioner Roger Parsons.

King also let commissioners know that the county was short staffed when it came to social workers in the Department of Social Services. The county currently needs four new social workers and may have to get creative to fill the positions. 

“Everyone is having a problem with staffing right now,” he said. “We’ve been advertising these positions for several weeks and haven’t received one single application.”

In this case, King said he doesn’t think the problem is how much the county pays but just a hard-to-fill profession right now. He said applicants should at least have a four-year degree in any field to apply for the position. Even if they have no experience as a social worker, the county can send new hires to a 72-hour training program to become a social worker.

Swain County has also been working on replacing the swimming pool at the recreation center and even though it’s scheduled to be open by July 4, King said they’ve had a problem finding enough certified lifeguards to have it covered for the season. 

The budget includes eight brand new county positions — one in soil and erosion, one in environmental health, two new animal control officers, two paramedics and two 911 dispatchers.

While the county works to fill positions, commissioners will also do away with one county program that has been lacking in participants for the last several years — the in-home aid program. The four positions that remain in that program will be given the opportunity to stay on with the county in a custodial position as of Sept. 1 or can more than likely be absorbed by another private in-home aid provider.

The in-home aid program costs the county $80,000 a year for staffing, but the county is paying out more than it’s getting reimbursed for those services. King said the program has slowly been phased out over the years as employees leave and clients remain at a minimum. Back in 1997, the county had 40 employees in the program but is now down to four. The four remaining employees also don’t have enough clients to keep them busy because so many people choose a provider other than the county. 

“The clients themselves wouldn’t go without services — they’d just have to pick another agency or pick their own person to come in to help them,” said Health Director Alison Cochran.

The public hearing for the proposed budget will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 10, at the Swain County Administration Building, 50 Main St., Bryson City. 

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