The Cumberland County Courthouse houses meetings of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners in downtown Fayetteville. Melissa Sue Gerrits / Carolina Public Press

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FAYETTEVILLE — During talks Wednesday surrounding the county’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Cumberland officials voiced concern about low retention rates among the county’s workers amid rising inflation and stress from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Part of the reason that we’re losing employees is, first, the emotional stress of the pandemic,” County Manager Amy Cannon said. 

Cannon said she’s hopeful that the situation is going to turn, leading to an employer market, but for now, she has concerns about county employees.

“They’re burning out,” she said. “They don’t feel like they can take a day off, because when they come back, it’s going to be difficult to then catch up.”

Beyond the pandemic, the ongoing labor shortage has contributed to high vacancies among county positions, Cannon said.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep people,” she said. “You may bring somebody on, and then six weeks (later), when they realize what we’re asking them to do, they exit out.” 

To address these concerns, county officials are adding a 4% cost-of-living raise to employees in the proposed budget. The proposal includes funds for a $95,000 study to best determine how to retain employees.

County Commissioner Jimmy Keefe expressed concern about the long-term solution to ongoing cost issues.

“Health care’s gone up, energy’s gone up, everything’s gone up,” Keefe said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index, which measures inflation, has risen 8.3%.

Current measures won’t completely address employee retention issues related to this inflation, Cannon said.

“That’s not going to stop the bleeding,” she said. “It’s not going to fully take care of their disposable-income loss.”

Keefe said the county needs to create new solutions in the future to fully address inflation.

“I would caution us on thinking that old ways of doing things are going to get us through in the future,” he said. “I think we have to be more creative.”

Public hearing

The county will conduct a public hearing on the proposed budget on Monday at the Board of Commissioners’ regularly scheduled monthly meeting at the Cumberland County Courthouse at 7 p.m.

Further work sessions on the budget will take place on June 8, 13 and 15.

Residents can view the budget online on the county’s website.

Ben Sessoms

Ben Sessoms is a Carolina Public Press staff writer based in Fayetteville. Send an email to bsessoms@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

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