By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
Hoke County Commission Chairman James Leach called Monday for the county to consider paying all of its employees at least $15 an hour.
Echoing some calls to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, Leach spoke about the proposal Monday at a regularly scheduled commission meeting.
The chairman addressed his fellow board members after a public hearing on the proposed manager’s budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
“We have 476 employees working for the county. A lot of them make less than $15 an hour, a lot of them,” Leach said. “In this budget workshop, I’m asking that we look at everyone who works for us making less than $15 an hour today, if we have do it in two steps, two phases…so we don’t have any employees working for us for less than $15 an hour.”
“We’re asking single mothers, single fathers, parents to work for $8 an hour and they’re not able to raise their family with a decent salary,” the chairman continued. “Let us look on the bottom this time, and any employee we have less than $15 an hour that we look at pulling them up, with two stages if necessary.”
Leach asked the other commissioners to consider the proposal as part of the board’s legacy for the county.
“In this process I’m asking the board to let this be our legacy, that there won’t be any employees at Hoke County making less than $15 an hour,” he said. “They can have and make a decent living for their families.”
Raising the base pay level for Hoke County local government employees would do several things, including allowing single parents who are working two jobs to spend more time with their children, Leach said. In the era of COVID-19, it could take some pressure off of local families who work for the county, he said.
The chairman asked Hoke County Manger Letitia Edens to run the numbers on how many employees the change would affect, and how much it would cost the county. Depending on the numbers, the county could take multiple budget years to put the change in place, Leach suggested.
“We might have to do half this time and half next time,” he said.
Commissioner Allen Thomas noted a concern that raising the pay of all county employees up to $15 an hour could put newly hired workers on the same pay level as people who have been working for the county for a long time. That’s something that should be addressed if the board were to move forward with the proposal, Thomas said.
Commissioners planned to hold additional budget workshops Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss details of the budget. The board will vote on the proposed budget, with any additional changes, at a called meeting sometime between now and the end of June. State statute requires local governments in North Carolina to pass a balanced budget before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
The county’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year came out to $53.7 million in total. The current property tax rate is unchanged at 75 cents per $100 valuation. The proposed budget is available to view online at the county’s website.
During the budget hearing, Hoke Area Transit Service (HATS) Director Nancy Thornton discussed the costs involved in building a HATS center using grant funding. The funding was approved and the project should be able to move forward in the near future.
“All we’re waiting on now is the contract,” Thornton told commissioners.
The center would include bays for the HATS vehicles, storage for maintenance equipment and more.
Other business •
In other business, the board voted 4-1 to table discussion of the selection process for choosing a company to complete the “Grow Hoke” sewer line expansion. The expansion, supported through grant funding, will run county sewer lines to the area of Scull Road and U.S. 401 to provide service to a proposed Parks and Recreation aquatics center.
Initial discussion to select one of two possible companies failed to pass a vote. In talks among board members at the meeting, Commissioner Tony Hunt questioned why board members didn’t follow the utilities committee’s recommendation in selecting a company to do the work. Of the two companies with nearly identical responses to the request for qualifications, the only difference between the two was apparently that one was white-owned and one was Lumbee-owned, Hunt said. Hunt serves on the county’s utilities committee.
Commissioner Allen Thomas said the information was sent to commissioners shortly before the meeting. He hadn’t had a chance to fully read the companies’ responses, and did not plan on voting to choose a company at the meeting. Thomas called for the board to table the discussion for a later date, and the motion passed 4-1 with Hunt dissenting.
The commissioners approved several reappointments to local positions. The board reappointed Daphne Dudley as tax collector and Susan Quick as deputy tax collector, and approved reappointing Glendia Black-Flippin and Emily Greene Price to the Hoke County Public Library Board of Trustees.
The board recessed the meeting until Tuesday to resume budget talks.