by Jordan Green

Items from across the Triad and beyond

Winston-Salem council approves budget with merit raises

It played out a little bit like the reality TV show “Survivor” in reverse.

After Winston-Salem Councilman Derwin Montgomery made a substitute motion to eliminate raises for council members, three hands went up immediately with the remaining five members hesitantly joining: No one wanted to be left alone on the island.

The $378.9 million budget sets the tax rate at 53 cents per $100 of valuation, expands bus service to Sundays and provides three-tiered merit increases to employees. City leaders said 70 percent of property owners will see their tax bills go down, based on the recent revaluation that resulted in lower values for most.

Under the compensation plan, employees recognized as top performers will receive 3 percent raises, with strong performers receiving 2.5 percent and solid performers receiving 1.5 percent.

“We have great people working in this city,” Montgomery said. “And we’re losing them because they’re finding better opportunities in other cities. One thing I know is that many of our employees are taxpayers right here in Winston-Salem.”

Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke said that while some employees demonstrate selflessness and commitment, those who underperform should not be counting on favoritism to help them land raises.

“I said to the city manager: ‘Some come and they bring too many of their personal problems to the job,’” Burke said. “So if they come, let them come and do their jobs, and they wouldn’t have time for anything but the job that they have been assigned to do. And I think we’ve talked about the supervisors when they are grading the employees, there’ll be no buddy system. If people are working, we are going to give them credit, and we want it to be done fair across the board.”

Tale of two lawmakers

Reps. Ed Hanes Jr. and Marcus Brandon, both Democrats from the Triad respectively in their first and second terms in the NC House, have bucked their party on education by working with their Republican colleagues to advance legislation in support of charter schools.

But Hanes, whose district is in Winston- Salem, and Brandon, who represents parts of High Point and Greensboro, took different tacks when a bill they sponsored to set aside $50 million for scholarships for low-income students to attend charter schools over the next two years was written into the House budget proposed by the Republican majority.

“My bill for opportunity scholarships for poor and minority children to have the same access as everyone else to determine their educational needs passed the House budget today,” Brandon announced on his Facebook page on June 12. “Some people disagree but it’s about justice, and I will always be a warrior for the kids and families in my community. If the people across town have opportunities it’s just a matter of fairness that the people in my community has the same opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Hanes presented an unsuccessful amendment to remove the bill from the budget. “Not everyone in this chamber had the opportunity to hear debate on a standalone bill… to fully have the bill vetted on this House floor,” Hanes said in a June 12 press release. “While I remain a passionate advocate of all our children’s constitutional right to an equal opportunity at a sound and basic education, that passion must be balanced with the right to open debate and for our bills to rise or fall on their own merit.”

Brandon said in response to a query on Facebook that the Republican leadership’s inclusion of the scholarship bill doesn’t lock him into any deal. He plans to vote against the budget regardless.