Beaufort County gets an ‘A’

Published 12:06 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Staff Writer

During the past decade, Beaufort County government’s work force has declined even as the number of people served by those government workers increased.
That fact led a Raleigh-based conservative think-tank to give Beaufort County its highest rating in a recent report comparing employment growth in county government to the private-sector employment growth and population changes across North Carolina.
Beaufort County government was one of 12 county governments statewide whose work forces declined from 2000-2009, even as the population in those counties increased. Those 12 counties were given an “A” by the report and cited as role models of governments that are “successfully doing more with less.”
Beaufort County leaders credited County Manager Paul Spruill with much of that success.
“A lot of that credit goes to Paul Spruill. The county commissioners set the direction of the county,” said Commissioner Hood Richardson. “But he takes advantage of opportunities to do things more efficiently.”
For his part, Spruill said he regrets that the recent downturn in the economy has led to actual loss of jobs for county employees instead of planned reductions in force through attrition.
The number of Beaufort County government workers fell by 22.4 percent from 384 in 2000-2001 to 298 in 2009-2010, and the county’s population increased by 5.4 percent during that period, according to the report, issued by the John W. Pope Civitas Institute.
During that same period, the county’s population grew from 44,958 to 47,401, the report said.
The drop in county government jobs was almost 2.5 times as large as the drop in private-sector employment in Beaufort County, which fell from 15,211 employees to 13,823 employees, or 9.1 percent, from 2000-2009, according to the report. 
The percentage drop in county government workers in Beaufort County for 2000-2009 was the second-largest in the state and followed only Mitchell County government, whose work force declined by 27.4 percent, according to the report.
Other counties where the county-government work force decreased while the population grew were Bertie, Burke, Catawba, Cumberland, Graham, Guilford, Onslow, Stokes, Surry and Wayne counties, according to the report.
The drop in the number of county-government workers follows a policy set by the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners years ago, when county leaders set a high priority on efficiency and, specifically, emphasized the need to reduce the size of the county-government work force, Spruill said.
Although the commissioners emphasized the elimination of vacant positions wherever possible, the unprecedented drop in the past two years “resulted in not only the elimination of vacant positions, but also filled positions,” he said. “My hope is that future long-term economic stability will mean the county does not face these unplanned decisions again.”
Automation of some of county services and privatization of others have helped the county operate more efficiently, according to Richardson.
The county has also done a good job of setting reasonable expectations among its residents for the services it provides, he said.
“We don’t promise everything,” he said.
Counties that shrank their government work forces while their populations also shrank were given a “B” by the report. They include neighboring Hyde and Martin counties, according to the report.
The report gave a “C” to counties whose government work forces grew at a rate either less than the rate of their population growth or less and twice the rate of population growth. They include neighboring Craven and Pitt counties, according to the report.
Counties whose government work forces grew more than twice but less than four times the rate of their population growth were given a “D” by the report. Those included neighboring Washington County, the report said.
Counties whose government work forces grew despite a population drop or grew more than four times the rate of their population growth were given an “F” by the report. Those included neighboring Tyrrell County, according to the report.
From 2000 to 2009, the number of county-government workers in 73 of the state’s 100 counties increased at a faster rate than the number of workers in the respective private sector in those counties, according to the report.
The report also noted that 60 county governments expanded their payrolls at a rate that exceeded the county’s population growth over the same period of time.