05/24/07 — Duplin keeping tight grip on funds

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Duplin keeping tight grip on funds

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 24, 2007 1:45 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County officials are tightening the county's budget belt and say they expect the agencies and departments they fund to do the same.

The county Board of Commissioners met Wednesday for a work session on the 2007-2008 budget.

Basically, County Manager Mike Aldridge said, Duplin's expenses are going up faster than its revenues.

"Our fund balance is growing, but expenses are growing more than our revenues," Aldridge said. "If we are tightening our belt the way we do, we expect outside agencies we fund to do the same."

The commissioners' goal is to be able to cut the property tax rate by 1.5 cents while at the same time not taking more than $1.85 million from reserves to keep the budget balanced.

Duplin's current tax rate is 80.5 cents per $100 worth of property.

Commissioner Chairman David Fussell said keeping a tight grip on the county's purse strings this year and next will help maintain the county's fund balance at its current level of about 20 percent of the county's available budget, so that capital projects, such as future school construction, can be completed.

Duplin Schools Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby told commissioners on Monday that rising fuel costs and increased education demands by the federal government have added to the school system's financial woes. School board members had hoped this would be the year Duplin could begin expanding some of those mandated programs, including adding more science laboratories and equipment, more personnel to deal with at-risk children and more security equipment.

School officials had asked for an additional $5 million over last year's allocation, an amount Commissioner Cary Turner called an insult.

"That's a slap in the taxpayers' face, knowing what our financial situation is and the tax rate they have to deal with," Turner said.

Commissioner L.S. Guy, a former superintendent, suggested allocating an additional $500,000 out of the fund balance to the school system, but that motion was voted down.

Requests by James Sprunt officials for more money for physical repairs in advance of its re-accredidation process next year also were denied, although commissioners did approve transferring $50,000 from a capital outlay line item to current expenses so the college could make some of the needed improvements.

The only department that was ensured a budget increase was the health department. Director Ila Davis told commissioners Monday salary increases are needed for nurses because many leaving for better-paying jobs.

"I have one nurse that left to get $12,000 more at another job," Mrs. Davis told the commissioners.

The department's clinic currently only has seven nurses to handle all aspects of treatment. As hurricane season approaches, Mrs. Davis said she fears she will not have enough nurses to maintain the county's shelters if a hurricane hits the county.

The commissioners agreed and took $74,000 for salary increases from a $185,000 contingency personnel line item.

The tax department also requested a salary increase so that tax collectors could earn as much as collectors in the county's water department. Tax Director Gary Rose also asked for every employee in his department to receive a raise, excluding himself. That would amount to about $65,000. Although the commissioners could not afford that amount, Aldridge did look at different ways to reward some employees while leaving others out until a later date.

The disparity in raises among county employees concerned Commissioners Zettie Williams and Reginald Wells, who said a selective method for raising salaries could cause friction between co-workers and affect employee morale.

The commissioners will continue to discuss the budget today and Friday, including discussions about allocations for the Sheriff's Office and the county Economic Development Commission.