Monthly Archives: July 2016

Lean and Nimble

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County is extremely fortunate to have Earl Mathers as our county manager.  Our commissioners have just finished the budget for the upcoming year.  Earl shares lots of information about the financial issues we face in our new fiscal year.  Financially, we are doing pretty good! Now  that you know, what will you do?

 Gaston County Approves the FY 2017 Budget

During the last two years Gaston County has adopted leading edge budget practices in an effort to ensure that community and county commission priorities are as closely aligned with expenditures as possible. In fact, the implementation of the leading edge Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) methods have further streamlined an already award winning budgetary process in Gaston County.  We also take pride in the fact that the foremost authority on governmental budgeting, the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), has recognized Gaston County for excellence in its budget process for the last several years.  In addition, strong financial management practices was a major factor in a recent bond rating upgrade by Standard and Poor’s for Gaston County which enables the county to obtain more favorable interest rates in the financing of school debt. This bond rating upgrade will save the county tens of thousands of dollars.

Gaston County’s general fund budget for FY 17 is approximately $202 million. Although this may seem like a great deal of money to most people, most of what Gaston County does is mandated.   In other words, Gaston County has limited discretion in the activities it performs.  Despite the mandates, the county does have the ability and the responsibility to ensure that all activities are performed in an efficient manner.  PBB enables Gaston County’s managers to be more intentional and results oriented in their deployment of scarce resources, regardless of whether a particular program is mandated or discretionary.

Producing Gaston County’s annual budget is an arduous process involving months of intensive work. Typically, budget requests exceed available funds by a substantial margin and this year a total of over $25 million was trimmed from departmental and external requests in order to produce a budget that is balanced.  The FY 17 budget would be flat except for the fact that $3 million in additional debt service for two new schools and $1.5 million in teacher supplements are included.  These are expenditures that have considerable merit. Overall, Gaston County departmental budgets are flat for FY 17.  There are several significant expense items on the horizon, however.  These include the need to make a variety of infrastructure improvements which have been deferred for several years and upgrade the public safety radio communication system.  Leading expense categories for FY 17 in Gaston County are illustrated below:

Mathers pie chart

Fortunately, Gaston County anticipates revenue growth in coming years. Both property and sales tax revenues are expected to continue to grow and this will ease the financial strain that Gaston County has felt since the beginning of the recession.  In addition, the increase in debt service over the next two fiscal years will decline as older debt is retired.  Continued fiscal restraint on the part of county departments will also be necessary and desirable but, in general, Gaston County’s financial outlook is favorable.  Anticipated revenue growth for FY 17 is shown below.

Mathers graphLooking to the Future

There is a widespread belief that Gaston County is poised to achieve the kind of progress that will lead to greater economic parity with several of our regional neighbors. Some lament the fact that Gaston has fallen behind more affluent parts of the metro area and yet there are specific reasons that growth has been more gradual here.  Actually, considering the persistent generational poverty and other challenges confronting Gaston County, our performance has been quite strong in recent years.  Unemployment has fallen to around the state average and many of the jobs lost during the decline of the textile industry have been replaced.  Indeed, we now need to develop more industrial property which fits the needs of prospective industries and the FY 17 budget sets aside money for that purpose.

There is most assuredly room for continued advancement and if genuine collaboration in the public interest occurs there is reason for considerable optimism. Gaston County recognizes these needs and has made a variety of investments that we hope will yield excellent returns.  Colin Powell once said “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”  In order to achieve the success we all desire for Gaston County, we must allow our collective optimism to brush aside minor differences in a manner that promotes the common good.  Although every individual and all the organizational entities in Gaston County have a natural tendency to protect their own interests, lets’ focus on mutual efforts that will yield universal benefits as we design an even brighter future.

Earl Mathers
Manager, Gaston County

HOPE

SEABROOK SAYS: Tony Sigmon is the leader of the Gaston County Family YMCA which has five operational facilities.  When the Y’s $18 million new facility is ready, Gaston County may well have the best in America. Tony writes on HOPE.  Read on and commit to give it your thought time. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

When my friend Bill Seabrook asked if I would write an article for “Digging Deeper,” it immediately hit me what I wanted to cover.   In a time like this, in a place like this, we all need a good healthy dose of Hope in our lives. For several years I have been pondering the question, “what is our greatest need?”  Looking around and seeing the unrest locally and abroad, observing the current political climate, seeing young people put off adulthood longer now than ever and seeing yet others have to jump into adulthood way too early; all of this brings me to my next question, where is the hope?  Some get so busy with day to day and yet others find ways to escape reality.  There seems to be a huge void of hope in our world.

Last week I had the pleasure of serving my 22nd year at the YMCA’s Blue Ridge Leaders School in Black Mountain, NC.  This “school” is a week long program where 700 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 from YMCAs throughout the South experience a physical education and leadership development training school so that they can become better leaders for their home YMCAs and communities.   Once again I was reminded what “Hope” looks like and through the eyes of a young person.   At the school there are eight 17/18 year olds who serve the school, having been selected the previous year as the “best of the best.”  They are called Honor Leaders.  Two of those Honor Leaders shared a reflection on HOPE.  Instead of listening to me pontificate, here is some of what they had to say.

13466473_1035604039821249_7277949050142153380_n

Hope. A small word, with a large meaning.  It plays a different role in each of our lives and there are many ways to define it.  Hope is looking towards the future with a clear vision.  Hope is acknowledging the uncertainty that is possible in any given situation.  Hope is our motivation to continue persevering through a difficult situation.  Often, hope is the idea we cling to when all our efforts have failed.  That small word, with such an incredible meaning, is essential to having a healthy spirit and mind.  Throughout different experiences in life, we have a persistent twinge of hope that the best outcome will be in our favor.  During these times, where do we find hope? Often we turn to temporary gratifications such as social media, negative attention or bad habits.  But they are just that, temporary and usually unhealthy.  Ultimately, this leaves us unsatisfied and wanting more.  When we find hope in temporary satisfactions, we are restricting ourselves from experiencing the hope that God provides us every day.

Think back to when you were a young child. Can you recall just how simple life was then?  We were surrounded by stories of happily ever afters, courageous heroes and victorious underdogs.  As children we have so much hope around us every day that it’s hard to be anything but positive.  The older we get, the realities of life alter our pure sight of this hope and it becomes more and more blurred.  Although we no longer cling to fictional stories to instill our hope, we have things that we do believe in.  For us and so many more we have the YMCA.  Here we see hope in action.  We see it when the dreams of an underprivileged child come true, when a struggling parent receives the financial assistance she needs to allow her children to attend camp or afterschool so she can work without worrying about them, or when a lonely widower gets time to socialize while they exercise in classes at the Y.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to use the hope we receive every day and spread it to others.  We all of have the potential to be someone’s hero.

When I hear an 18 year old talk like that to a group of 700 teens and 200 adults, I am inspired. It ignites a Hope in me that I want to share with others.  Our local community is right at that “Tipping Point” and there are so many great things that inspirational leaders are doing here in Gaston County.  My closest and favorite example is the New Y at Robinwood Lake.  To be a part of this incredible community lifting project is amazing, but working alongside leaders like Andy Warlick, Gene Matthews, George Henry, Richard Rankin, Steve Huffstetler, May Barger and Frank Craig is beyond a blessing to me.  Seeing so many more people excited to the point that they give the largest gifts that they have ever given to any project is a testament to leadership, inspiration and hope.  It is also a focused energy that creates a best of the best attitude and an excitement that is unparalleled.  My hope is that this is a beginning for Gastonia and Gaston County to see how bringing energy, vision, community and leadership together around a common cause brings great hope and makes dreams come true.  We have great potential to thrive as leaders, as community and as a county.  Now, “go be someone’s hero.”

Tony Sigmon
CEO, Gaston County Family YMCA

photo (13)

Relations with America and Cuba

SEABROOK SAYS: Claudio Fuente is a native of Cuba, but has lived in the USA for many years.  He will share his thoughts about Cuba and the possible relationships with the US. Somehow, sometime, Gaston County may benefit from a relationship developed between Cuba and the US.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

On a recent trip to Little Havana in Miami, Florida I marveled at this vibrant community in action. Vendors and business owners graciously made everyone feel welcomed, despite language barriers and cultural differences.  As an American citizen originally born in Havana, Cuba, this environment reminded me of the warmth and friendliness the Cuban people show to each other and to everyone they meet.

Significant events have once again thrust Cuba and America together and all for the better. Many people who came to this country from Cuba take the view that America should have nothing to do with the present Castro regime. I’m of the opinion trade is good — eliminate the embargo and flood Cuba with blue jeans and car parts!

Cuba has many issues, and so does America — both countries have political prisoners, a history of human rights violations, a significant gap between rich and poor.   I’ve always had a dislike and distrust for the current Cuban government leadership.  Because of the actions of previous administrations, the door was opened for the current leaders, leading to mass migrations from Cuba in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.

This year, my family and I will celebrate our 60th anniversary of arriving to America. For my sister and I, the move was like a camping trip.  For our parents it was pure hell.  They had to give up everything they owned in this world to be total strangers in a land that did not want them.  They endured being made to feel they were unwanted, got used to being shown the exit rather than the entrance.  They experienced discrimination because they were from another land and spoke another language.  They survived and provided for their family by accepting any employment available, even jobs that were well beneath their skill levels.  We knew many physicians, dentists and teachers from Cuba who came to America and found their degrees and experience meant nothing here, so they took any job they could, often working as housekeepers, shift workers in factories, or restaurant servers.  My family and I saw and experienced these hardships and many more.

Our family made a vow not to allow the hatred to discourage us. Many people were kind to us and provided encouragement as we found our way in this new country.  We pursued education and exhibited a strong work ethic, eventually meeting our goal of becoming American citizens.  As citizens,  we were excited to be granted the privilege to vote, looked forward to the honor of being called to serve on a jury pool, and felt secure knowing know that no one could take these and other rights away from us.

As someone who came to this country as a legal immigrant, I am concerned by the harsh language I hear from others about people who were not born in America. Please, never fear someone whose language you don’t recognize or speak — embrace them.    Show compassion — many of these families suffered greatly to leave faraway places that don’t enjoy the freedoms that many of us take for granted.  They want to be free to work hard, get an education, raise their families, and make a positive contribution to America.

Claudio Fuente
Retired Graphic Design Manager