County still waiting for report from consultant
By Dennis Hill
Published in News on April 24, 2006 1:49 PM
Wayne County commissioners are awaiting a consultant's report on public school needs as they work on developing a budget for 2006-07.
A report by Evergreen Solutions has been due for several weeks. The commissioners hired the Florida company to analyze the county's school facility needs before sitting down with the county Board of Education to discuss funding.
Last year, the two sides nearly wound up in court after disagreeing over the amount of money the commissioners allocated for public education. A last-minute settlement avoided a lawsuit.
The commissioners have met with all county department managers to hear their funding requests and have also met with leaders of other organizations that receive county money to listen to their needs. Some tough decisions will have to be made between now and the end of June, when by law a budget has to be approved. Wayne's total budget for the current year is $155 million, but much of that is state and federal money that flows through county coffers.
Last year, the commissioners increased the tax rate by 7.5 cents.
County Manager Lee Smith has said a tax hike is the commissioners' last resort, and that they are considering every angle to avoid another one.
Evergreen's report and the school board's request will be big factors in reaching a budget decision. School officials are likewise awaiting the Evergreen report. They have said Wayne's schools have serious facility needs that cannot be put off much longer.
Smith said the commissioners are eager to get on with the budget process.
"We hope we can get together and get the recommendations back. We want to put the past stuff behind us because we want the best for the schools," Smith said.
By law, the Board of Education cannot submit its budget request before May 15. Smith said as soon as the request is formally submitted, a series of joint workshops will be scheduled to bring the two boards together to find common ground, he said.
County department managers were required to submit budget requests by March 28. Smith noted that Wayne uses a zero-based budget system that starts from zero. That means departments and their employees are required to justify their financial needs every year and maintain pre-determined standards to continue to receive the funding.
"We ask the agencies and departments for their objectives and goals in the next year. We look during the year to see if they're doing it and meeting their marks. If not, they could get money withdrawn from their budget during the year," Smith said.
The county has about 1,000 employees. Each has a job description and set goals for the year, Smith added.
"We have a work plan for every county employee -- everyone from the sweeper to a computer programmer," Smith said. Having a detailed plan helps prevent unforeseen budget adjustments, he said.
"The budget drives everything. I don't like changes during the year, because it says we didn't do a good job on planning. The expenditures need to be to the penny. We gained $4 million in our fund balance last year because we had a conservative budget," Smith said.
One of the ways the county has tightened spending has been to institute a performance-based salary system for employees. County Human Resources Director Sue Guy said the county has stopped paying employees an annual cost-of-living increase. Instead, county employees are given a base-line bonus.
"If an employee does all that is required of them, they get a one-time bonus for that year," Mrs. Guy said.
The next year, an employee can get another bonus for efficient work, but that bonus does not build on the employee's base salary, she said.
If a county employee "goes above and beyond" his or her work requirements, Mrs. Guy said the employee receives a merit raise. For example, if an employee gets certified to teach other county employees a skill and that saves the county money, the employee would be considered for a merit raise.
"County workers have a say-so in what their salary is. We pay for performance," Mrs. Guy said.
While commissioners are going over budget requests, a capital planning committee headed by county Emergency Services Director Joe Gurley is working on a long-term facility plan for county agencies. The committee started work in November but, like the commissioners and school board, is waiting on the Evergreen report before making a recommendation.
Meanwhile, Smith and the commissioners are continuing to pore over the numbers they have at hand. He invited any taxpayer with a question or concern to call his office at 731-1435 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"If they have questions, they can call or come in. It's the taxpayers' money," he said.
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