05/31/07 — Wayne Commissioners to comb through budget line item by line item

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Wayne Commissioners to comb through budget line item by line item

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 31, 2007 1:45 PM

Meeting together for the first time since getting Wayne County Manager Lee Smith's 2007-08 budget proposal last Friday, the Board of Commissioners spent some time Wednesday going over some highlights and hearing from a few groups about their funding.

Smith began the meeting explaining just a little about the $108.8 million budget -- $168.7 million once the full amount of state and federal dollars flowing through, but not into the county's coffers, is added in.

It is approximately a $2.2 million increase over last year and includes a proposed five-cent tax increase.

The last tax increase of 7.5 cents came in June 2005. If approved, the new rate would be 78.5 cents per $100 value.

Also within the 300-plus pages are new practices of paying cash for small projects rather than using short-term loans, a new matrix-based salary scale and insurance premium increases for county employees, as well as four new budget-funded positions and two new grant-funded positions.

Overall, though, the county's actual departments are scheduled to operate at $890,000 less than last year, even as the fund balance is expected to remain just under $25 million if everything goes well to close out the current year.

"I know we're asking people to do more with less and it's hard. I know that," Smith said. "And the board doesn't want a tax increase and I don't want a tax increase, but what do you do?"

The problem, he continued, becomes a matter of where can they cut.

Much of the budget increase is coming from mandates such as Medicaid and the school system, as well as other outside agencies such as the library and the arts council, though Smith said the latter of those probably wouldn't equal half of a cent on the tax rate.

"As a budget team, all we can do is bring the data. They have to make the decision," he said. "They can cut things in the county's operating budget, but they're going to have to choose which services to eliminate.

"It's not going to be an easy decision. It's hard. You've got to remember the county is a business and it has to operate. There's not five cents worth of cuts."

Still, commission Chairman John Bell said they're going to take a hard look at everything scheduled to be funded. Today they were scheduled to go over the budget line item by line item.

"We're not through looking at it," he said. "I'm never comfortable in passing a tax increase. We'll look at it and then, only if it's absolutely necessary, will I do it, but I'm never comfortable.

"Before we pass that budget in any form and increase taxes in any way, we will look at every corner to make sure that tax increase is absolutely necessary.

"I think that's why the people elected us, though -- to make those hard decisions."

On Wednesday, two organizations hoping that the commissioners would decide to give them more money, were the county Department of Social Services and the WISH program.

With a new deputy director already scheduled to come on board to help run the department's leading by results program, DSS Director Judy Pelt also requested an additional $39,500 for two employees to help run the energy assistance programs and one to help with the child daycare program.

The WISH program, which brings health care into the schools, requested an additional $45,000 to help bring the two registered nurses working in the high schools up to full-time positions and to help hire a third mid-level employee, such as an physician's assistant. The reason, program director Phyllis Hill said, is because there needs to be a continuum of health care services as children move into high school. The commissioners took no action on either request.

They also heard from WATCH and Wayne Community College, both thanking Smith and the board for recommending their full requests. Standing before the board for the last time, WCC President Dr. Ed Wilson also took advantage of the opportunity to thank the commissioners for their cooperation during his tenure.

With a public hearing on the budget scheduled for 9:15 a.m., Tuesday, June 19, Smith also noted that his budget message and the budget highlights are available on the county's Web site, www.waynegov.com and copies of the complete draft budget are available for examination at the Wayne County library on Ash Street in Goldsboro and at the county's administrative offices .

"We always encourage people to please take a look and if they've got a question, to ask us," he said.