09/28/06 — Duplin residents will take look at county's finances

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Duplin residents will take look at county's finances

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 28, 2006 1:48 PM

KENANSVILLE -- A committee of 18 Duplin County residents organized to help county officials make the best use of taxpayers' money met for the first time this week.

The Duplin County Fiscal Oversight Committee is made up of three representatives from each of the county's six commissioner districts, along with the commissioners themselves.

The group was formed by the commissioners as a way to help guide their budget decisions. Commissioner Chairman Zettie Williams said the idea for the panel came from an increasing number of county residents who attended budget work sessions as commissioners hammered out a budget in the spring and early summer. Commissioner Reginald Wells suggested that a group of residents be formed to help commissioners in the decision-making process, rather than coming in at the last hour to complain about decisions that had already been made. Other members of the board of commissioners welcomed the idea, she said.

County Manager Mike Aldridge said the county will benefit from the exchange.

"This way we won't be pushed against a calendar to make a budget. We can take our time and explore ideas. Ordinarily the time would not be there," Aldridge said before the meeting.

Aldridge added that he would be asking county employees for their suggestions on how to save money as well.

At the meeting, several committee members said employees should receive incentives for coming up with ways to save money.

Committee members spent a good part of the meeting developing priorities they believe the county should tackle in the next budget.

The ideas that received the most support included determining and making public the source of funding for county operations, whether it is local taxes or state or federal funds. Another proposal that received wide support was making a prioritized list of needs that committee members feel the county must address. Also near the top of the list was efficiency and accountability among county employees and possible measures for improvements in those areas.

Several committee members said they also want to know more about programs and services ordered by the state and federal government, often referred to as mandates. They said they wanted to know how much state and federal money comes along with those orders.

Dick White of Wallace said such a list of mandates "will help quell a lot of issues," that have raised public ire.

Before the next meeting in two weeks, county officials will provide the committee with a breakdown, department by department, of this year's spending plan, compared to previous years. Committee members said they will look at the increases and the reasons behind them.

"Looks to me like the first order of business is somebody needs to explain to us the budget process and what our expenses are and where we're getting the money for them," Ed Emory said.

The committee decided to meet as frequently as possible until the process begins around the first of the year. Departmental budget meetings begin in January, with the commissioners starting budget work a month or so later. State law requires a budget has to be adopted before July 1.

Aldridge said he will be working to get the information the committee wants in time for the next meeting on Oct. 9. The committee will meet on that day at 5:30 p.m. in the Social Services building.

All the members of the committee urged county residents to contact the representatives from their district and express their concerns to them so that they can be taken up by the committee.

The committee members and the districts they represent are as follows:

*District 1: Ralph Britt, Millie Brown and Jimmy Newkirk.

*District 2: Mike Davis, Rouse Ivey and John Smith.

*District 3: Randy Albertson, Kellon Maready and Earl Lemons.

*District 4: Ray Garris, Dick White and David Gray.

*District 5: Albert Brown, Eric Coman and Rob Lee.

*District 6: Jimmy Sauls, Delilah Gomes and a member to be named.