Guilford County government, under the leadership of Guilford County Manager Mike Halford and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, accomplished a great deal in Guilford County in 2023.
However, the fact that the county did so apparently with absolutely no consideration whatsoever to the cost could be bad news for county property owners if the bills for all the projects, new positions, new departments, community program giveaways and everything else ever come due.
Hopefully, those bills will not need to be paid.
Guilford County started off the year in January by, very quietly, greatly expanding the size of the county’s Public Relations Department. The county hired three new public relations employees, which, in one fell swoop, quadrupled the size of the department that has the job of informing county residents of events, helping county administrators communicate with county staff, and attempting to spin the news as positively as possible when things go wrong.
The Rhino Times only found out about the move after asking why there were suddenly so many strangers with cameras and notepads showing up at meetings.
Guilford County, also at the start of the year, nearly tripled the size of its Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) department. At the beginning of 2023, Guilford County had three employees devoted to increasing MWBE participation in county contracts and services. After the county added five MWBE positions, there were eight county employees for that purpose.
That’s the main reason the MWBE Department budget was $385,000 in fiscal 2022-2023, and, in the fiscal 2023-2024 budget that took effect July1, 2023, the cost of the county’s MWBE efforts shot up to $1,566,976.
That took place after the county paid the bill for a giant $300,000 diversity study, which, to no one’s surprise, found that the county was not diverse enough in hiring workers or handing out county contracts.
In the weird new world in which commissioners now adds slews of county positions in the middle of the budget year – that used to happen almost exclusively when new budgets were adopted each June – the county has no problem adding positions as soon as they are requested and robbing savings to pay the cost.
Speaking of MWBE issues, in March, the Board of Commissioners killed an in-progress $20 million plus contract with Samet Corp. to build a new Sheriff’s Headquarters and related facilities. To this day, there’s been no public explanation as to why the county killed the contract. However, off the record, some county officials do acknowledge in vague terms that it was somehow related to the county’s dissatisfaction with the way Samet handled MWBE issues.
Later in the year, the county rebid that contract at great additional expense.
In June, the county commissioners adopted an $840 million wish-list/budget that was by far the largest in the history of Guilford County. It included plenty of pure giveaways to a wide range of groups, including $200,000 to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum to help fund its attempt to expand and become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and join company with the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty.
Before adopting Halford’s massive budget proposal, the commissioners added new expenses, and Guilford County Schools made out like bandits – on top of the $2 billion the county has started borrowing for school bond projects thanks to voter bond referendums in recent years.
The county also, right after adopting the budget, granted county employees a slew of costly new benefits even though those perks came on the heels of an across the board 5 percent raise that went to every county employee including high-paid directors and the county manager.
The county spent over $100 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and then began spending the first of $20 million that it’s getting from the settlement of the nationwide lawsuit state and local governments filed against major opioid manufacturers and distributers.
At the end of the year, the county approved an $8 million project to renovate and beautify the government plaza in downtown Greensboro and was finalizing the issuance of well over $100 million in new debt in early 2024 for the school construction and repair.
It is a very, very, good thing money grows on trees or county taxpayers would be in trouble down the line.