SMITHFIELD — Three county employees will receive bonuses totaling $10,500.
Johnston County commissioners made the announcement Monday, during a rezoning meeting, then voted unanimously to approve the bonuses.
Manager Rick Hester will receive $5,000. Pat Goddard, head of the tax office, will get $3,500, and county clerk Paula Woodard will take home $2,000.
Commissioner Tony Braswell, who suggested the bonuses, said he wanted to reward the employees for helping the county weather the recession, which saw tax revenue stagnate.
Specifically, Braswell said, Hester helped keep the county’s finances on track during the roughest years. When commissioners strayed from their policy of keeping a 15 percent of spending in reserves, Hester helped right the ship, Braswell said.
“It’s not all about the money,” he added. “It’s about appreciating what they’ve done.”
Goddard, meanwhile, has been persistent in pursuing delinquent taxes, securing millions of dollars in revenue, said commissioners’ chairman Jeff Carver. Hester’s guidance, he added, had allowed the tax rate to hold steady even as growth in the tax base stalled.
“The tax rate … wouldn’t happen without the managers of the store,” Carver said. “We’re taking care of the people who take care of us and the people who take care of the taxpayers.”
Commissioner Ted Godwin said the employees deserved bonuses, but he questioned the “timing (and) appearance” of them.
This year’s budget, Godwin said, won’t be easy. Commissioners will be pressed to maintain services as costs rise, he noted. They will also face pressure to give the schools more operating dollars while trying to constrain spending to boost the county’s bond rating in advance of more borrowing to build schools.
Carver said the bonuses were an important gesture and added that $10,500 was a small figure for a county with a $179 million budget.
Godwin ultimately agreed. “We may catch some flak from the citizens from it, but I will go to the mat for it,” he said before the vote.
The vote was unanimous, but the meeting ended awkwardly, as Commissioner DeVan Barbour walked out in disgust. Braswell told Carver that Barbour had not been made aware of the bonus proposal beforehand.
The other commissioners quickly followed Barbour into a private chamber to discuss the matter. Barbour was unavailable for comment after the meeting, and he did not return repeated phone calls.
Braswell said the idea for bonuses came up while he and Carver were looking at the salaries paid to managers in surrounding counties. He said they wanted to let Hester know how much commissioners appreciated his work.
“He went all those years without a salary increase, and he finally got some (extra money),” Braswell said. “Hopefully it stays in there.”
Hester – like other county employees – went without a pay raise for three fiscal years, starting in 2009 and ending in 2012, when commissioners OK’d raises of 1.2 percent.
Hester said he was surprised by the gesture. “I’m very appreciative of it,” he said. “I certainly love what I do.”
Commissioners still have to find the money for the bonuses, either in the last month of this fiscal year or in the new year that starts July 1.
Asked if the county could afford the bonuses this month, Hester didn’t know. “I haven’t even done the math on it,” he said.