06/13/04 — Budget hearing Tuesday

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Budget hearing Tuesday

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on June 13, 2004 2:08 AM

How would you spend $101 million? Think hard, Wayne County residents, because you've got the money.

Getting some ideas? Bring them Tuesday to the Wayne County Courthouse Annex. A hearing on the county's 2004-05 budget will begin at 10 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room, which is on the third floor.

But be aware that $101 million won't go far as you'd think.

In fact, before you can find the calculator, sharpen your pencils and break the first dollar in the Coke machine, about $86-87 million is already spent.

The state and federal governments require the county to provide certain services. Wayne County must operate a jail. It has to feed the hungry, protect children, help people back to work and chase deadbeat dads. It splits the check when its poorest residents get medical treatments or buy prescription drugs.

Mandated services make up about 86 percent of the budget, County Manager Lee Smith said Friday.

That leaves little money for anything new the county commissioners want to do or everything old that needs to be replaced.

Smith and the county's finance office have taken their best shot at the budget. Before the county commissioners start work, they want to hear what you have to say. Start your homework.

Money in

Wayne County proposes to keep its property tax rate of 66 cents per $100 valuation -- or about $528 for a $80,000 home. That would bring in around $36 million in taxes on property and vehicles. Another $1.7 million is expected in late payments, including penalties and interest.

But that's only a third of the county's revenues.

Next year, the county expects to receive nearly $17 million in sales tax revenue. The state gives counties 21ò2 cents of the state's 7-cents sales tax. Distribution is based on both where money was spent and counties' population. The economic slowdown hurt everyone's sales tax revenues and the county expects only a 1-percent gain next year.

Many state and federal funds flow through the county. We will receive nearly $25.3 million for public health, more than $7 million for mental health, and $16.3 million for schools.

The county has several "enterprise" funds, which are services that are expected to collect enough in fees to support themselves. The landfill is expected to earn about $3.5 million next year. Sewer charges will raise nearly $7 million, much of which will go to the city of Goldsboro to pay for wastewater treatment.

Emergency medical services are expected to earn $3.5 million. The county has been collecting on 60 percent of its ambulance billing, far above the 40-percent projections, Smith said. That will allow the county to cut what it's subsidizing the system by $200,000 this year, he added.

Some small fees that add up. For example, with several municipal elections planned for fall 2005, the Board of Elections is counting on $3,783 in filing fees next spring. The fire marshal expects $4,200 in inspection fees. Billboard owners will sign over $2,400. A captive audience, jail inmates are expected to spend $9,000 at the commissary.

These types of revenues add up to about 10 percent of the county's money.

The county's investments will earn it around $500,000 next year. The budget also draws $1.2 million from the county's savings. By next year, Smith hopes to end the practice of using its savings to balance the budget.

Money out

So where does that money go?

By the county's own calculations, it spends a little more than a third of its budget on human services -- health, mental health and social services primary among them. Another 20 percent goes to the schools, followed by public safety (16 percent), general government (11 percent), environmental services (almost 8 percent), debt retirement and contingency (5 percent), economic development (2 percent), etc.

But where does the money go?

A lot of it goes to people. Wayne County has 1,000 employees, so personnel costs are huge. Smith wants to give a 2 percent cost-of-living increase next year.

But even money that doesn't go directly to personnel ends up in local pockets. For example, the school system has local employees paid out of its county allotment.

Or consider Medicaid. North Carolina requires counties to reimburse about 5 percent of the cost of medical treatments given its low-income residents. The county's costs have soared in recent years. As recently as 1991, the county only paid $1.4 million in reimbursements. It's budgeted around $6.3 million next year, an $800,000 increase in one year.

As much as it galls Smith to write that check, he knows that it's matched by $115-$120 million in federal and state money that's going to Wayne Memorial Hospital, local physicians, pharmacists and others who supplied the medical services. "That's a lot of money coming into our county and creating jobs," he said.

What's in

The commissioners began talking about their 2004-05 goals back in January. The board's top goal was coming up with a plan for its building needs for the next several years.

This month the commissioners will approve a capital improvements plan (CIP) that begins this year and continues through 2010. From now on, the commissioners will update the CIP each year as part of its budget work.

Also new in the budget is an additional $766,000 for the Wayne County Public School System's operating expenses. So far, the county does not propose to increase teacher supplement pay, despite a request by the Board of Education.

The budget includes $800,000 for computer upgrades, roof repairs to the Administration Building, renovations at the Jeffreys Building, and EMS equipment.

The county may buy six gas/electric hybrid vehicles for health inspectors to use on their rounds. The hybrids typically get 60 miles to a gallon of gasoline.

What's out

Some things got squeezed out of the budget. The one that stings the most is the new animal shelter, Smith said.

County officials had believed the new shelter could open by summer 2005. Now it's more likely that work will begin around this time next year, with the opening delayed until fall 2005, Smith said.

The shelter, which could cost $1 million, is likely to be financed over 10 years. The delay would allow the first payments to be made in the 2005-06 budget.

But the animal control advisory group is developing plans for the new building. The site can be picked and cleared and construction contracts let next spring.

Smith also regrets the budget only gives Wayne Community College $200,000, half of what college officials sought for improvements. That will stall reroofing projects.

The budget does not include money for the school system's proposed $82 million building program. The commissioners and the school board need first to agree on what and when they want to build, Smith said. "This summer we need to come to a consensus."

School construction probably could not begin until December 2005 at the earliest, he said.

The proposed budget may be viewed in Smith's office in the courthouse annex.

The county commissioners have called a special work session scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 22. They could approve the budget that day and must do so before July 1, the start of the budget year.