05/25/14 — County ready to discuss budget

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County ready to discuss budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 25, 2014 1:50 AM

Wayne County commissioners Tuesday morning will take the wraps off a $136 million budget proposal that maintains the current tax rate of 66.65 cents per $100 of appraised property value, provides a $500 bonus for most full-time county employees and maintains the current funding levels for the public schools -- $2 million for capital outlay and $18.2 million for current expense.

The current expense for the schools includes a $125,000 supplemental appropriation. Over the past several years, a fund balance of $526,936 has accrued in the current expense fund. That balance will be distributed as supplemental funding over the next four years.

The budget proposal assumes little growth, only about 1.5 percent, in sales tax revenues and only about 0.7 percent in the property tax base.

There are no fee increases.

Commissioners this past week said the public should not expect a repeat of last June's marathon budget meetings that consumed 22 hours spread across three days as board members grilled department heads while looking for more cuts.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery had the most comments and suggested many of the cuts. Commissioners, particularly Daughtery, wanted agencies to drawdown on fund balances in lieu of county funding.

Tuesday's budget presentation will get under way at 8 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

"What I planned on doing was simply going through the presentation with you," Interim County Manager George Wood told commissioners this past week. "I am going walk through the budget, how it is organized, what the key points are, the assumptions that it is based on and give you a fairly detailed presentation on it.

"Typically what we would do, if you want to have a work sessions on that that, if everybody could come prepared about when you'd want to meet, because sometimes between the 27th and when you vote on it on the 17th (of June), we can have work sessions if you want to do that."

Wood said he and Finance Director Pam Holt would answer any questions commissioners have.

"But if you want a particular department head there. If you particularly want to look into certain areas, then we would have those in at your request," he said.

Wood said he had not planned any presentations by the department heads, but that the decision was up to the commissioners.

"I think we need to have a work session and that would be the appropriate time to bring them over," Commissioner Bill Pate said.

"What I would like to do is go through it and see what your concerns are and bring the ones over that you want," Wood said. "I don't want to have a lot of staff tied up in here if you don't have a problem with anything. There is no need to eat their time up."

Daughtery agreed.

"I do not want to go through another process like we did last year," he said. "So hopefully from your presentation, and the work session, we can just hone in on certain items."

"I agree, but my feelings are that last year was necessary. This year I don't think it is," Chairman Wayne Aycock said.

Wood said he had received a letter from Eastpointe Director Ken Jones that he would go over during the Tuesday session.

"We had put in what we had budgeted for them last year," Wood said. "It was about $45,000. They had not made any request up until then.

"They followed up with a letter, and they want about $370,000. We gave about $45,000 last year. So between now and next Tuesday I will be calling them and discussing that."

He said Eastpointe staff wanted to make a presentation Tuesday. However, Wood said he thinks the time for that will be when commissioners hold their public hearing on the budget June 3.

Eastpointe is the agency responsible for managing behavioral health care for people in 12 counties including Wayne. It does not provide the services, but rather assists people in getting the help.

"I just want to mention, what we did last year, and I don't know if all of the commissioners realize it or not, but we cut out services for our own people here in Wayne County," Commissioner John Bell said. "We didn't hurt Eastpointe. We hurt the people that we service here in Wayne County when we took that money from Eastpointe."

Wood said that Jones' argument was that he used fund balance last year to help balance Eastpointe's budget.

"So I don't know how much, John, they cut last year," Wood said. "I understand we cut it back. But their argument is if they don't get it, they are going to have to cut services this year."

Pate said commissioners need to look at Eastpointe's numbers to see what kind of money it has. Wood said that was one of the reasons he was contacting Eastpointe.

"You have got to look at what is designated for Wayne County," Bell said. "What is happening in Duplin County, we don't have anything to do with. What Duplin County puts in only covers Duplin County people."

Commissioner Ed Cromartie said he would like to see what the county had provided Eastpointe over the past five years.

Pate said he would also like to hear from any local businesses that would be affected by any Eastpointe cuts.

Bell and Cromartie, the only Democrats on the board, voted against the current budget.