06/20/06 — Critics blast Duplin budget plan

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Critics blast Duplin budget plan

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 20, 2006 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- More than 300 people packed the James Sprunt Community College auditorium Monday night to hear comments on the proposed Duplin County budget.

The county Board of Commissioners is considering a budget that would increase the tax rate by 3.5 cents. About two dozen people spoke at the hearing, some to criticize the tax hike, others to complain about what they called inadequate funding for the county schools.

The commissioners will meet next on June 28 at 9 a.m., at which time they are expected to adopt the budget, which by law must be in place by the end of the month.

The proposed $45.5 million budget would set the county property tax rate at 80.5 cents per $100 worth of property. The proposed budget would also take $3.7 million from county reserves to help shore up spending, but it doesn't give the public schools or James Sprunt Community College what education leaders say they need.

John Hardison said the college can't operate on the additional $17,000 allotted for operating expenses. The college has a new 19,000 square-foot building to heat and cool, he said.

"The cost of insurance has gone up astronomically," he said, adding that campus security is more expensive, and it is costly to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

County School Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby asked the commissioners to make students their top priority. The average school system in North Carolina receives 24.5 percent of their county budgets, but schools in Duplin gets only 14 percent.

"I think we can do better than that," said Doby, who said he expects to have to cut teachers, resource officers and clerical positions to make it through 2006-2007, with the $6.6 million set aside for public schools.

Several schools are dilapidated beyond repair, and those in good shape are overcrowded, said Wallace Mayor Chuck Farrior. He said the school system is going to lose 13 planned local teacher positions. He asked commissioners to reevaluate the current budget proposal and give the schools at least $1 million more than they received last year. The public schools received $6.5 million last year.

The children have fallen further down on the county's priority list, said Duplin school parent Veronica Stevens.

And a parent of two boys attending the Duplin public schools, Dr. Greg Bounds of Faison, said he would be willing to pay more taxes if he could be guaranteed all of the increase would go to education. He added that he doesn't believe raising taxes is the solution, however.

"Our answers must be drawn from creative solutions," he said.

Angie Burk of Wallace asked commissioners to improve the quality of the schools and education in the county and stop "the out-of-control county payroll."

She said citizens of Duplin County are already burdened with a higher tax rate than many other counties. Elderly people and working poor already have to choose between health care and food, she said.

"The silent majority may not come to your meetings, but there is a ground-swell of people waiting for you to do the right thing," she said.

People cannot stand any more taxes, said Al Raynor, who described himself as a "one of them thinking hog farmers."

Raynor, who has two grandchildren in the public schools, said if there are any higher taxes they should be sales taxes so everyone will pay them.

At the end of the day, he said, he lets his employees off work so they can "go sit in the air conditioning, and I go out to the hay field. They don't pay no taxes. I do."

Donald Bland told commissioners that if they were in the private sector their company would not be in the "economic cesspool" that Duplin County is in.

"You would cut nonproductive services and non-productive employees," he said. And if taxes are raised, he said, "there will be retribution at the ballot box, and there will be retribution at the time to pay the taxes."

A couple of speakers asked commissioners to find another $2 million to cut out of the budget.

And taking $3.7 million out of reserves places the county in a perilous fiscal situation, said Julia Callahan of Wallace.

"You must ensure that spending remains within the current revenues collected," she said. "That is what we expect and deserve."