County manager calls out Byrd

Eddie Madden
Columbus County Manager Eddie Madden

County officials took the unusual step of calling out Commissioner Giles “Buddy” Byrd Friday after Byrd made several inaccurate statements to a Wilmington television station.

Byrd cast the sole dissenting vote against the Fiscal 21-22 budget for the county Monday. Byrd criticized Manager Eddie Madden for changing the budget process, not proposing a reduction in property taxes, and refusing to use the county’s fund balance to even out the budget. 

Byrd said that he felt “left out” of the budget process, since Madden met with department heads, then presented commissioners with a draft budget. In years past, commissioners met with individual departments and had direct control over annual budgets from start to finish.

Byrd said he had spoken with another member of the board who supported his position, but did not name that board member.

In an interview with Ann McAdams of WECT, Byrd said that the county’s budget was not actually balanced, and that the county would have to draw back five percent of funding in some areas to get back to the minimum fund balance required by the state. 

Madden said in the press release that the county’s fund balance is currently 14 percent, while the state requires eight percent.

Madden said the county budget is balanced, as required by law, and the county is fiscally sound. Unlike previous years, the county did not draw from the fund balance for this year’s budget. Madden said last year the county pulled $2 million from fund balance to balance the budget. He also noted that the county is not in violation with the Local Government Commission, and has “sufficient cash” to meet all budgeted obligations for the year.

Byrd also told McAdams that the county is in “jeopardy of having to pay a higher interest rate to finance the construction of a new school in Tabor City,” a statement Madden said was also inaccurate.

“The Local Government Commission does not determine interest rates,” Madden said in the statement. “The state requires that debt financing be competitively bid. The county commissioners will select the lowest and best financing package for the project.”

Madden also noted that the budget funds the county and city school systems at a level “that hasn’t been seen in many years,” funding operations, requested capital improvements, debt service and funding for supplements for teachers.

 Byrd told McAdams that the county might not be able to fund all the items in the budget, especially projects like the Detention Center improvements. 
Madden said every line item in the budget is fully funded for the year. He also explained how some of the planned expenditures will be revenue producing items.

Sheriff Jody Greene previously explained that the federal inmate program will bring millions in revenue into the detention center, funds which will more than pay for the required improvements.

The new budget makes a significant investment in economic development and job creation.

For the first time in several years, the commissioners approved a pay raise for employees, which officials hope will improve retention as well as rewarding workers “for the excellent work they do,” according to the statement. 

The budget also funds a comprehensive recreation master plan, which is required if the county applies for major grants and loans for park improvements.

Madden also noted that the COVID-19 funding from the federal American Rescue act is also being used in accordance with federal requirements.

Byrd has been an outspoken critic of Madden since before he was hired earlier this year. That criticism peaked after Finance Officer Bobby Faircloth was told to clean out her office and then was escorted from the building during a county commissioners meeting. At that time, Madden and a team of outside accountants discovered more than $750,000 in discrepancies in the county books, stretching back a number of years. While officials did not specifically state what the discrepancies were, sources close to the audit mentioned issues such as untallied and unrecorded cash payments, and problems with long-overdue water bills. The Tabor City prison unit recently paid a $92,000 water bill that the Department of Corrections received after Madden and Interim Finance Officer Dan Leatherman took the county reins this spring.

At Monday’s meeting, Commission Chair Ricky Bullard – who Byrd attacked over Bullard’s previous votes against other budgets – said that he was “pleased” with this year’s budget.

“It is one of the best budgets that I have seen in many years and the citizens of Columbus County should be very proud of the progress that has been made under the leadership of the current board and new manager.

“It is a step in the right direction.”

About Jefferson Weaver 1973 Articles
Jefferson Weaver is the Managing Editor of Columbus County News and he can be reached at (910) 914-6056, (910) 632-4965, or by email at [email protected].