06/08/05 — County cuts tax proposal by 2.5 cents

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County cuts tax proposal by 2.5 cents

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 8, 2005 1:47 PM

Wayne County Commis-sioners agreed Tuesday to a 7.5-cent increase in the property tax rate, but still hope to cut more from the budget before a June 21 public hearing.

County Manager Lee Smith and his budget staff shaved $1 million off the budget by eliminating county funding for an airport project this year, and by reallocating some sales tax funds.

Smith proposed putting aside $500,000 for future debt service for the schools by using sales tax revenue.

He told the board that some of the sales tax revenue is designated, by law, to go to the schools.

"But there's been some sales tax that you have allowed them to get, which has been above what the law required," Smith said. "That's the money that should go in our reserves for future debt service for the schools."

Smith recommended funding the schools at $1.5 million, saying the school system has money in reserves that could be used.

He explained that the county collects the sales tax and traditionally allocates 100 percent for the schools.

"If they don't use it, it rolls into a special reserve fund for them," Smith said. "The county can't go in there and choose to use it. It's their money."

By law, that money can only be used for school capital projects, Smith said.

"They do utilize it from time to time," he said. He estimated that the current balance in that fund was around $1.5 million.

"Based on history, we're giving schools what they need," Smith said.

He also cut $550,000 from a capital project to build more hangars at the Goldsboro-Wayne Airport.

Smith said the county could get a federal grant to cover most of the cost of the airport project.

About $10,000 was eliminated from the proposed budget by cutting travel expenses for the commissioners, and 10 other departments.

Departments cutting travel included Human Resources, the county attorney, the Board of Elections, the Register of Deeds, the sheriff's office, the Day Reporting Center, Emergency Management Services, Animal Control, Soil Conservation, Senior Citizens and Social Services.

The county also canceled its annual Christmas commissioners' breakfast with employees, and cut training budgets in several departments.

The sheriff's office also cut $25,000 from its overtime budget.

Smith also cut another $250,000 out of the budget by recommending that the board postponing buying imaging equipment in finance, buying less audio visual and office supplies. In addition, advertising budgets were cut in emergency management, and positions for temporary help at the board of election was eliminated.

Commissioner Efton Sager said he wanted to set the record straight regarding the county's need to increase its fund balance.

He said the proposed tax rate was "so shocking" to the people of Wayne County because the revaluation in 2003 was like a 30 percent tax increase to many people.

Sager said if the board had planned better in past years and been more fiscally responsible, the tax increase would not have been necessary.

He said previous boards went wrong because they had no long-range financial plan, no long-range facility plan and because for many years the fund balance was drawn down to balance the budget.

Sager said the county had to see where it could make cuts, without sacrificing the quality of life for Wayne County citizens.

"I feel that we commissioners should ask all agencies that depend on taxpayer support to cut travel, retreats, restrict number of board members attending conferences and seminars, and cut out excess luncheons," he said.

County Commissioner John Bell said the budget issues facing the county couldn't be placed on past boards.

He said five of the seven commissioners were on the board in 2002 when Smith told them of the need to increase the general fund.

"For any of us to pretend we didn't know, well, you are just whistling 'Dixie,'" Bell said.

Commissioner Jack Best recommended cutting the commissioners' budget by another 4 percent, or $9,000.

"If we expect our staff to sacrifice, we need to sacrifice, too," Best said.

Bell said $9,000 wouldn't cut the tax rate and "before you know it, we'll be doing a commissioners' car wash."

He said it would have a negative impact on the county to stop going to conventions.

"If we cut out networking," Bell said. "You can't get it in a vacuum. You have to deal with other people."

The commissioners cut the additional 4 percent from their budget, but placed the $9,000 in a contingency fund.

"I still have some heartburn about this budget, but we can go to the hearing with this," Commissioner Andy Anderson said. "But we should still see if it could be lowered."