05/08/07 — Duplin commissioners get look at 'tightened' budget

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Duplin commissioners get look at 'tightened' budget

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 8, 2007 1:52 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County Manager Mike Aldridge presented his "tightened" draft budget to commissioners Monday morning, reflecting their request to limit the property tax rate, reduce fund balance spending and increase county employee salaries.

While some areas of the county's budget cannot be controlled, such as Medicaid health insurance costs, Aldridge told commissioners that expense line items were tightened to reflect current expenses and revenue line items were kept realistic.

In the next year, some organizations may not receive a funding increase, while others may not receive funding at all, Aldridge said. But each decision made in his draft budget was to meet the commissioners' requests, he added.

The commissioners tasked Aldridge with finding a way to reduce the property tax rate from 80.5 cents to 79 cents per $100 valuation, while still providing needed services to Duplin residents.

The board also wants to limit the amount spent out of the county's fund balance reserve. The commissioners decided that they will not spend more than $1.85 million out of their fund balance to balance the county's budget.

The commissioners said they hope a reduction in spending will provide them the funds to give the county's 500 employees a 2 percent pay increase. That increase was included in Aldridge's draft budget.

Another item included on the draft budget is to restructure the county's Emergency Medical Services. It had been proposed to limit the amount of operational paramedic sites from eight to six, but commissioners and local responders worked together to find a better solution.

The trial period, which will begin in Chinquapin in June and spread to Pleasant Grove and Kenansville, will utilize six paramedic units and two quick response vehicles during the day and five paramedic units and three quick response vehicles at night.

Duplin Emergency Medical Services Director Brian Pearce said the difference between a paramedic unit and a quick response vehicle, or QRV, is that a quick response vehicle carries the same medicine and equipment, but the vehicle cannot transport a passenger to the hospital.

"We have a large county, but a small population. With this option, a QRV can help with the assistance and treatment and another ambulance can come to transport," Pearce said.

By substituting out the transporting paramedic vehicles, Aldridge said EMS could save about $290,000.

Although it is unpopular among some emergency medical personnel, Commissioner Cary Turner said the county's finances requires the commissioners to make changes.

"We chose the locations because they have the least calls," Turner said. "All of the changes will come in stages. We can do this to see if it works. It may not, but we can only know if we try."

The county could also use some of its available funds to hire four telecommunicators and one emergency medical services billing position. Aldridge said the telecommunicator positions is a problem that must be addressed because "that's where public safety begins."