January 03, 2013
Even though Guilford County
just took over the operation of its parks system on Tuesday, Jan. 1, the commissioners are already starting to see unanticipated costs and, increasingly, they're experiencing a parks takeover equivalent of buyer's remorse.
One cost they didn't expect – and apparently didn't know about until The Rhinoceros Times began asking them questions about it – is that in recent weeks County Manager Brenda Jones Fox created a new high-paying position for a parks manager.
The new manager will have the title of "assistant parks administrator" and the county's Human Resources Department began attempting to fill the new position recently. Guilford County
has never run its own parks and, until the Jan. 1 addition of about 30 park employees, it only had one employee devoted to overseeing the parks. The county has always outsourced the operation of its parks to the cities of Greensboro and Burlington, the towns of Gibsonville and Jamestown, and to Forsyth County.Guilford County
staff had told the commissioners that the county would save about $340,000 a year by bringing most of those duties in-house – however, it's becoming clear right from the beginning that Guilford County
is going to end up shelling out a lot more than anticipated.
For starters, there's the new park manager position that appeared quietly last month.
The classified ad, which for some strange reason isn't posted on the county's website, was obtained by The Rhino Times through a public records request. It states the salary for the newly created position will fall between $64,042 and $86,456 a year.
The new parks manager will answer to the Property Management Department – which the county has now started calling the Guilford County
Property Management and Parks Department.
The ad calls for a college graduate with a bachelor's degree in parks and recreation administration, public administration or a related field, with five years of "progressively responsible experience in Parks & Recreation Administration."
It also calls for one year of supervisory experience or "an equivalent combination of training and experience," and it states that a designation as a certified park and recreational professional is required as well.
The ad states that the assistant director will aid the Property & Parks Management director in "planning, implementing, directing and managing all Parks and Recreation Division functions and resources to achieve the strategic objectives of the department and County."
Sandy Woodard is currently the interim director of that department. Woodard has been interim director for almost two years, ever since former Property Management Director David Grantham retired.
One source said information about the opening has been circulated among the 30 parks workers the county has hired. Those workers will have their same duties they did when they worked for the cities and towns that ran the parks up until midnight Dec. 31, though that may change as the county evaluates how its new parks operations are working.
The $64,000 to $86,000 salary is just the beginning of what the parks takeover will cost. The new parks manager will no doubt need transportation to move around to the various parks, office space and supplies, perhaps an assistant, and, as with all county employees, the new head of county parks, along with the 30 new park workers, will get the attractive county benefits package.Guilford County
Assistant Manager Sharisse Fuller, who's also the county's human resources director, in response to a question about county employee benefits, wrote in an email: "A typical employee with a base salary of $50,000 who enrolls in State retirement, 401(k) and the Retiree Health Savings Plan, and who chooses single coverage for health, dental and life insurance, would get a total annual County benefit contribution of approximately $13,678 as of today."
Commissioner Hank Henning said at the last commissioners meeting that he wants to see the board take another look at the parks takeover decision during the county's upcoming retreat on Thursday, Jan. 10.
Henning said there's a lot to consider and he said he has never felt all of the real costs to Guilford County
have been taken into account. Henning said that, for instance, there's the current hot topic issue of equity pay.
During discussions about some controversial raises to county department heads, Fuller told the Board of Commissioners that all new county employees have to be evaluated for equity pay so that Guilford County
doesn't leave itself open to a lawsuit.
Henning said that, with the county adding 30 new employees to the payroll, and all of them being evaluated for equity pay, it may be that the county ends up paying those employees more than they were being paid by the cities and towns they worked for, so, he said, that's another cost that has to be factored in.
The 30 new employees will also create additional costs in time and money for the Human Resources Department, which now will have to handle the paper work, evaluations, training, etc., for all of the additional employees.
All these costs will cut into the supposed $340,000 savings that the county is no longer paying out to the cities and towns as a management fee.
"What are the other unanticipated costs of taking over the parks?" Henning asked.
He added that, so far, what he's seen hasn't been reassuring.
"I need a lot of convincing," Henning said. "I want to see the numbers that validate that we really save money."
Henning also said he campaigned on the promise to citizens to help prioritize the county's spending, and he said that, given the pressing needs of the schools, emergency services, law enforcement and other critical county services, he wants to make sure that bringing the parks operations in-house doesn't create a "burden on the budget."
Both Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Linda Shaw and Vice Chairman Bill Bencini have expressed major concerns about the county taking over the operation of the parks. Bencini predicted last month that Guilford County
would find itself in a financial and logistical mess shortly after the takeover and he said it wouldn't surprise him if the board tried to undo the move in 2013.
Shaw said this week that, the more she learns, the more she starts to regret the decision.
"Something has bothered me about this," Shaw said. "I'm not sure we didn't jump the gun to quickly on this. Are we really going to save that much?"
Several commissioners old and new have also pointed out that, aside from the monetary considerations, the agreements with Greensboro, Burlington, Gibsonville and Jamestown have, over the years, helped the working relationships between the county and those towns and cities.
Commissioner Alan Branson, who, like Henning was just sworn in as a commissioner at the beginning of December, said the cities and towns that have been operating the county's parks aren't the only ones that the takeover has rubbed the wrong way. Branson said the county's Parks and Recreation Commission was never consulted or even so much as notified of the county's plans to take over the parks. ...continued on page 2