Duplin group grappling with budget
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 15, 2006 2:00 AM
News-Argus Staff Writer
Two meetings and hundreds of pages of documents later, the Duplin County Fiscal Advisory Committee is still trying to get a handle on the county's financial situation.
The committee, which met for the second time last week, was created by the county Board of Commissioners after a somewhat acrimonious budget process this year.
Comprised of 18 commissioner-appointed county residents, it's purpose is to look at the county's $45.48 million budget -- up $2.8 million (6.58 percent) from last year -- and make suggestions when officials begin preparing for the 2007-08 fiscal year.
"I just want to contribute. I feel like I have a lot to offer and I just want to see Duplin County advance," said committee member Mike Davis of Mount Olive.
Officials hope that by tapping such concerned residents, the committee will be able to look at the budget with a fresh eye toward saving money.
"We don't have any authority to do anything, but we've been given an open book to analyze the budget and make suggestions," said committee member and Calypso resident Ralph Britt.
But after the first two meetings they're still trying to wade through the sea of information thrown their way.
"We're still in the learning mode, not in the solution mode. There are too many misconceptions (about the county's budget) and I probably have some myself," Britt said. "To understand and digest the budget is not a two- or three-hour process. It's going to take some time to wrap our arms around it."
The first meeting, held on Sept. 25, was primarily an opportunity for members to decide what kind of information they needed. At the second, they began receiving it -- including details of county revenues and expenditures since 2002 and details of each county department's responsibilities.
"What they told us is that there is no question we're not allowed to ask and no numbers we're not allowed to see," said committee member David Gray of Wallace. "We saw the complete budget, I think. We were told it was and I think it was.
"I don't know where the committee's going to go from here, but we have people on the committee with good financial backgrounds who are asking good questions."
With the committee meeting every second and fourth Monday of the month, Aldridge said he expects the information-gathering process to continue for at least a little while longer, but that he's hopeful the members can begin making suggestions by January when the county starts preparing the next budget.
"We want to get their suggestions and input before the 11th hour," he said.
And, said committee members, they believe their suggestions will be taken into account.
"I think it's a real good idea and I'm excited about serving (on the committee)," said Randy Albertson of Beulaville. "I believe it's got a really good chance of doing everything the commissioners are hoping it will, and I certainly have every reason to believe they are going to listen to our suggestions.
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