03/08/10 — Duplin takes aim at budget to look for savings

View Archive

Duplin takes aim at budget to look for savings

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 8, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County commissioners have taken a look at what kind of cuts they could take to reduce the county's 2010-11 budget by more than $3.4 million.

Based on the 2009-10 budget, that amount is how much the county will have to cut to keep from taking any money from the general fund balance, County Manager Mike Aldridge said.

"Looking forward into next year, we've been asked, or I have, by departments, what sort of cuts are you looking for going into next year, so they can have some kind of sense for what we're asking them to do by not putting any fund balance appropriations into the budget for next year," Aldridge said.

Commissioners voted earlier this year to strive for a balanced budget without using general fund balance money. Using data on the 2009-10 budget, county officials predicted what kind of cuts would have to be made to achieve that goal.

"It assumes the $3.5 roughly million of fund balance that's in the current year budget, and it takes that and prorates it over all the departments, their total budget based on their expenditures. So you end up getting on the far right column (of the data sheet), the fund balance prorated by department, that's the number that we would have to reduce current year budget to eliminate the fund balance appropriations being made," Aldridge said.

The largest single reduction would come from the Sheriff's Office, reducing its $3.4 million operating budget by $349,045. County emergency medical services would operate with $284,799 less than its $4.2 million 2009-10 budget.

Other large reductions would include cutting $107,286 from the county communications expenses, $205,308 from the jail and $94,855 from the social services administration.

Under the projected cuts, $586,796 would be removed from the county's contribution to the operational supplement to the board of education. Other reductions to school funding would potentially include cutting $38,819 from regular instruction, $76,535 from transfer to school capital reserves and $38,086 from school technology.

Funding reductions in other areas would include $45,164 from the county's contribution to the library, $23,210 from the airport and $23,614 from mental health services.

Aldridge pointed out challenges in cutting fund balance appropriations from some departments, illustrating his point with examples from the county attorney and his own office's budget.

"Where are you going to find $16,000 and $18,000 in those two budgets to cut, other than salaries? It's just not going to be there. We're going to pay the bills, we'll pay the phone bill, we're going to pay the light bills and the supplies, but you're talking about - we're already down to nothing but salaries and paper and pencils, so I just don't know whether that's a realistic expectation in many of these budgets," he said.

The cuts required to achieve the goal would be going "way beyond what the audit, in its wildest recommendations, would even suggest," the county manager said.

"Then with the bigger budgets, the sheriff's department, $350,000, I don't know how you're going to do it. I guess what I'm saying to you is, I love your goal, but you know, tried this two years ago, to reduce it by half, and we just couldn't achieve that," Aldridge said.

When the county officials move into budget discussions, many department heads are not going to be able to achieve the budget cuts the commissioners have requested by seeking to keep fund balance allocations out of the equation, although some of them can, he added.

"I sure hope none of them come back and say zero, there can be some cuts of some kind," Chairman Cary Turner said.

Supporting public safety, the county's goals and education are the county's central responsibilities, but there are certain things that the county government does not have any imperative responsibility to do, Commissioner David Fussell said.

"It's nice if you've got the money, great, but when you don't have the money you don't do it," he said.

The board has to decide where to make the cuts, but will also have to decide if some departments will need more, rather than less funding, Fussell said.

"There are certain departments that need more money, and there are certain departments that need to cut. We added on stuff over the years when times were good, and that's where it -- when times turn sour, you're going to have to start cutting, and we have got to have the courage to do it," he said.