06/07/05 — Duplin struggles to hold line on budget

View Archive

Duplin struggles to hold line on budget

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 7, 2005 1:45 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin commissioners will continue today trying to pull together a budget without raising taxes.

Commissioners held a public hearing on the proposed $42.6 million budget Monday night and planned to start back with work sessions again at 2 p.m. today in the County Administration Building on Seminary Road.

The Social Services Community Room was packed with about 100 people Monday night as County Manager Fred Eldridge gave a synopsis of the proposed budget, and then school officials asked for more money for public education.

Eldridge said the county will probably bring in $40 million next year. He said the county can expect to collect $17.9 million from the property taxes.

He said the county will see a slight increase in sales tax money coming from the state. The county's 3 percent increase in occupancy tax will bring in an additional $88,000. Building inspection fee increases should bring in an additional $165,000, and increased environmental service fees approved Monday morning should bring in another $114,000.

He said Duplin Commons should bring in new money from things like box office, space rentals, vendors, equipment rentals and parking. The events center at Duplin Commons has its first event scheduled for late September.

He said the county could make up the $2.6 million shortfall by using some of the $3.1 million set aside for this year out of reserves. The county hasn't used but $48,000 of the reserve this year.

"If we can take that from our carry-over," he said, "we can balance the budget and not raise taxes."

Eldridge said he instructed all the department heads to strip down expenses as much as possible. He said with few exceptions, expenses are lower than in last year's budget. County workers won't get a raise, and personnel costs have gone down 28 percent.

But the county pays health insurance premiums for county workers, and the monthly insurance premiums have gone from $377 for an individual to $404. Eldridge said the increase would multiply out to about $146,000 in additional costs for the county.

Worker's compensation insurance rates also have increased by $197,000. He said four county employees are out of work because they were injured in traffic accidents this year.

Sheriff's Office expenses have increased because there has been an increase in the number of jail inmates, increased fuel costs and replacement of seven vehicles. Jail costs went up 5.7 percent because of things like medical supplies, food and juveniles who have to be kept separate from adults.

Emergency management cost increased 20 percent because of staff the county didn't have last year. The increase in emergency medical services costs was up 30 percent because 2004-05 has been the first entire year of paid rescue staff.

Eldridge said he expects anticipated increases in collections at paramedic level to offset the additional costs.

The county's new events center at Duplin Commons will combine with Travel and Tourism to become the Duplin Commons Convention and Visitors Bureau. Debt retirement and operational costs at the center will begin next year. That reflects a 66 percent increase from this year's expense, which was related to engineering and construction.

Education will be flat, with no changes from this year. The numbers are all the same, he said.

Education needs more money, Board of Education Chairman Emily Manning said during the public hearing. Poverty has increased, and that increases special needs of students, she said.

"How can we attract industry when our work force is ill-educated and ill prepared for work?" she asked the commissioners.

Former assistant superintendent Alice Scott asked commissioners to consider buillding smaller schools and put a priority on general expense and capital outlay for public education. The smallest high school in the county, North Duplin, has the highest graduation rate, she said. But Charity, E.E. Smith and Warsaw Middle Schools have the lowest percentage of fully licensed teachers in the county.

Board of Education member Reginald Kenan said the county's Low Wealth funding could be in jeopardy if commissioners fail to increase the county's part of school spending next year. Per pupil expenditure for Duplin ranks 88 out of the 100 counties in the state, he said.