06/01/07 — Wayne Commissioners find little fat in budget

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Wayne Commissioners find little fat in budget

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 1, 2007 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners put its $108.8 million 2007-08 budget on the butcher's block Thursday, but by the end of the day, found only a few slivers of fat to trim away.

"We went through every line item. We understand what (County Manager Lee Smith) is asking for," Commissioner Jack Best said after more than five hours of budget discussion.

"Everything in there is justified," Commissioner Andy Anderson added. "I don't think there's any fat in there. By the research of the staff and as clean as it is, I think, yes, a tax increase is justified."

But, he also said that doesn't mean it's going to be the five-cent one Smith recommended.

"These things (in the budget) are important, but not raising the taxes on the public is important, too," Anderson said.

However, if they don't make the jump to 78.5 cents per $100 value, budget cuts will have to come from somewhere.

And that, Smith told the board, is the problem, because of that $108.8 million the county really only controls about 13 percent. The rest, he said, is mandated by state and federal policies, rules and regulations, with Medicaid's $8.3 million right at the top.

Also burdening the county is the $20.4 million allocation to the school system's operating and capital budget, $37.9 million for human services and $23.3 million for public safety.

But, even with county departments having already slashed their actual operating expenses by $890,000, the commissioners were determined to find some areas of the budget to cut -- beginning in their own line item where they removed $9,000 for professional services.

They then chopped out another $15,000 in professional services from the county manager's budget and found a $10,000 typographical error in salaries for the county manager's staff.

Also taken out of the budget was $1,200 for the board of adjustment, which was taken over by the commissioners, and another $20,000 in travel and tourism promotion funds.

"Those were sort of easy to cut. But there are other things that could be cut," Commissioner Atlas Price said.

On the other side, though, the commissioners added another $1,000 in salary for a position reclassification in the soil and water conservation office, and agreed to continue to pick up approximately $15,000 in insurance payments for the Wayne County Public Library.

But the commissioners aren't done.

There are other small areas they're still looking at, including cutting the Arts Council of Wayne County and the Wayne County Historical Society back to their current funding levels because of the in-kind work already provided by the county.

The board also discussed the possibility of putting another $26,000 back into social services either to contract with the Salvation Army or to pay for two positions to manage the low-income, energy crisis programs.

Other areas of the budget examined closely by the commissioners -- but ultimately left unchanged for now -- included the two new positions approved for the tax department that Smith said should help bring in additional revenues, the increases for the county Board of Elections as it prepares for four elections in the next fiscal year, the Sheriff's Office, which had requested extra positions and the funding of both the Mount Olive Airport and Goldsboro-Wayne Municipal Airport, which actually receives no money from the city.

In addition, the commissioners discussed their funding for WAGES and the Boys and Girls Club, Waynesborough Historical Village and the Waynesborough Battlefield and for WATCH, which Smith said ultimately saves the county hundreds of thousands of dollars by keeping people out of the health department.

"Now it's up to us to decide if we'll go with a five-cent, three-cent or two-cent tax increase or none at all," Price said. "I think everybody's got to let it sink in a little bit. We've got a lot to talk about."

None of Thursday's changes, though, are set in stone, Smith warned -- not until the commissioners actually vote on the budget by the end of the month. A public hearing has been set for 9:15 a.m., Tuesday, June 15.

"I thought things went pretty good. It's time consuming to go over it like that, but really, that's the commissioners' job and we looked at it pretty good," Bell said. "If we cut any more we might be putting the county in jeopardy in terms of services."

And for that reason, he added, taxes are going to have to go up.

"There is going to be some tax increase, but how much, I don't know yet because we're not through looking at the budget," he said. "I know people aren't going to be happy with it, but we're not going to raise taxes just for the sake of raising them. If we raise taxes it'll be because they are absolutely necessary."

Four other budget highlights of note were no increase in the $23 tipping fee at the landfill, a reduction of county sewer rates from $16 to $9, an Oakland Fire District tax increase from five and a half cents to seven cents and a Grantham Fire District tax increase from seven cents to eight cents.