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Halifax County commissioners Monday night began their first steps to craft a financial plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

The proposed budget presented to the board by County Manager Tony Brown in a meeting which was accessed by telephone due to restrictions in effect from the novel coronavirus pandemic reflects earlier directives by commissioners to address employee pay and also addresses the need for an additional 12-hour EMS crew at the Scotland Neck station.

For budgeting purposes the tax rate Brown is using in planning the budget is adjusted to a revenue neutral rate of 73 1/2 cents per $100 of valuation. That figure is based on increased property values in the recent revaluation, he said this morning.

In the gallery: The six budget options

The county manager presented the board with six options, with only one using the revenue neutral rate and $2,368,425 in unassigned fund balance.

That option— Option 1 — would only provide $137,000 in additional capital and give full-time employees a $1,000 bonus and part-time employees a $500 bonus.

It would not fund pending outside requests; employee market adjustments; an employee step adjustment plan; an employee performance pay plan or the additional EMS crew in Scotland Neck.

Both board Chairman Vernon Bryant and Commissioner Marcelle Smith said they liked option 6.

Option 6 would use $2,368,425 in unassigned fund balance and deploy an adjusted rate of 3 cents for a tax rate of 76.5 cents per $100 of valuation.

That option would fund needed capital in the amount of $137,000 and employee bonuses of $1,000 for full-time and $500 for part-time employees.

Option 6 would also provide a 2 percent employee market adjustment; a 1.25 percent step adjustment and an employee performance pay plan as well as funding the additional 12-hour Scotland Neck EMS crew.

Option 6 would not fund pending outside requests or sheriff’s office vehicles.

In lieu of Option 6, Bryant said he could also support Option 3.

Option 3 would use a 2-cents tax adjustment, making the rate 75.5 cents per $100.

It would fund additional needed capital and provide the $1,000/$500 employee bonus. It would also fund a 2.5 percent market adjustment and a 1.25 percent employee step adjustment.

It would not, however, fund pending outside requests, an employee performance pay plan, the additional EMS crew or sheriff’s office vehicles.

“That’s what I don’t like about Option 3,” Bryant said this morning, referring to it not funding the EMS situation.

During the meeting, Bryant said, “We’ve got to think about our people in Scotland Neck. We have said we will make employees a priority and put something in their hands.”

EMS situation

County Emergency Services Director Phil Ricks told the board during the meeting the need at Station 3 in Scotland Neck stems from an increase in call volume, which has resulted in some longer response times in that area. “Trucks from other stations are having to travel from Enfield or Halifax to answer some calls.”

In his talking points included in the meeting agenda packet, Ricks said, “Halifax County EMS Station 3 in Scotland Neck has been unable to meet the 90 percent benchmark in responding to EMS calls in its service area.”

Crews from Halifax and Enfield are being dispatched to the Scotland Neck area in response to second and third out calls more than 10 percent of the time.

“Due to distance, it takes more than 20 minutes to respond from Halifax or Enfield to a second out 911 call in the Scotland Neck area.”

The ambulances from Station 3 routinely transport to Vidant Edgecombe in Tarboro — 17 to 24 miles away; Vidant North in Roanoke Rapids — 24 to 26 miles away; and UNC Nash in Rocky Mount — 24 to 26 miles away.

“Due to turnaround time and return travel, the EMS crew may be out of their area for 1 1/2 to 2 hours,” Ricks said in the document. “Covering additional 911 calls during this time is creating delays in patient care and causing anxiety from 911 callers who are awaiting an ambulance. We have asked the EMS field supervisors to respond to the Scotland Neck area when Station 3 goes out. This reduces response time but not the wait time for a transport unit.”

Ricks said the increased call volume can be attributed to the following:

The closure of Our Community Hospital

A 180-bed nursing home which opened in the area

Fresenius Dialysis Center

Rural Health Group office

Caledonia-Tillery correctional units

Ricks said two paramedics and two EMTs would be needed for the additional crew.

The estimated cost is $248,000

Other budget notes

The budget as proposed is $44,481,440.

As proposed the budget does the following:

Funding for each department to support and maintain current service levels

Funding for recurring and critical capital in each county department

Funding average daily membership for each local school district

Funding for contingencies

Additional floating holiday for years when Christmas falls on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday

Funding to absorb increased benefits costs — health at 15 percent and retirement at 1 percent

Total school capital outlay appropriations are $488,785 for Halifax County; $452,380 for Roanoke Rapids and $256,735 for Weldon.