ROCKY MOUNT — The Franklin County Board of Supervisors approved a $160 million budget Tuesday afternoon that includes a 5% cost of living raise for county employees, who had to do without raises during the first fiscal year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This budget is really a restorative budget, trying to rebound off of COVID,” said Gills Creek Supervisor Lorie Smith after the 6-1 vote to approve. “This budget is highly conservative, as I like it. It meets the needs of the citizens. We’ll continue to address ongoing needs as they arise.”
Although the county’s new budget provides only $750,000 of the additional $4.4 million the school board requested for their own budget, that funding will be enough so that all teachers and school staff will also receive 5% cost of living raises, said Schools Superintendent Bernice Cobbs.
“We’re thrilled to be able to offer this raise to our education community,” said Franklin County School Board Chair Julie Nix.
Following the county budget vote, supervisors unanimously passed the school budget. Smith praised Cobbs’ work in communicating the school system’s needs. “The schools have been under a tremendous burden with COVID, as we all know, and they continue to struggle with that,” she said.
The 2021-22 county budget makes no change to the county’s already low real estate tax rate, 61 cents per $100 of assessed property value, nor to any personal property tax rate.
During an April 20 public hearing, the board split 4-3 on a vote that increased the county’s transient occupancy tax from 5% to 7%. The increase, paid by guests at establishments such hotels or AirBnB lodgings, takes effect July 1. County officials project that it will raise about $50,000 in new revenue the first year, which has been earmarked for tourism initiatives.
Tuesday’s meeting in the Franklin County Government Center wasn’t contention-free. Blackwater District Representative Ronald Mitchell said he voted against the county budget — his was the sole no vote — because it doesn’t address critical public safety issues such as inadequate pay for longtime employees when compared to new hires and badly-needed replacements of old fire trucks.
“I want more pay for our deputies and our fire-EMS personnel,” Ronald Mitchell said. “Volunteer firefighters’ families deserve for their husbands or wives to be in safe and reliable equipment.”
The county also needs to upgrade its canneries, which saw heavy use during the pandemic, he said.
Before the budget votes, Snow Creek District Representative Leland Mitchell lobbied for $50,000 to be reallocated to expand paid staffing at the Snow Creek Volunteer Rescue Squad from five days 8 a.m.-8 p.m. to seven days. The board ultimately backed Leland Mitchell’s request 5-2.