06/03/07 — Duplin budget public hearing set for Monday

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Duplin budget public hearing set for Monday

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on June 3, 2007 2:00 AM

The Duplin County Board of Commissioners will present its 2007-08 budget and allow county property owners to express their opinions of the proposal at a public hearing Monday at 6 p.m. at the Duplin Commons auditorium in Kenansville.

Commissioners want to cut the current tax rate from 80.5 cents per $100 worth of property to 79 cents.

They also wanted to draw only $1.85 million from reserves to make the budget balance. But over the past few weeks that figure has grown to $3.35 million as some proposals to cut spending went by the wayside.

Some of the organizations receiving the benefits of the latest proposed increased spending include the county's fire departments, emergency medical services, sheriff's office, parks and recreation department, education system and the economic development department.

Several weeks ago, it appeared James Sprunt Community College and Duplin County Schools would not receive any additional money in the next fiscal year.

James Sprunt had asked for more funds to make improvements across campus as the college goes through its re-accredidation process in the next year.

Duplin County Schools asked for an additional $4 million, or $12.3 million total, to make a vast amount of education improvements, including the establishment of the James Kenan School of Engineering and implementing learning initiatives to improve reading, life skills and teacher development.

Although the commissioners could not meet all of educational demands requested, a motion submitted by Commissioner Cary Turner was approved Wednesday to allocate $100,000 to James Sprunt Community College and $750,000 to Duplin County Schools.

The money intended for the county's public school system will be used for program supplies and facility improvements, but the money has been earmarked restricted until the Duplin Board of Education determines how to split the money for both needs.

In Turner's same motion, the commissioner requested about $184,000 to allow the sheriff's office to purchase eight new vehicles and to reinstate the county's parks and recreation department.

The department was expected to be dismantled as of July 1, but the motion will maintain the department and provide its employees with a 2 percent salary increase -- a cost that totals about $65,000.

The county's economic development department will also continue to function beyond July 1. During a May 7 commissioners' meeting, the board narrowly approved dismantling the department to shift power to the county's two non-profit economic development organizations -- the Duplin County Economic Development Foundation and the Duplin County Economic Development Corp.

That shift in power would do away with the job of Economic Development Director Woody Brinson on July 1, about seven months before he planned to retire.

After public outcry from business leaders and residents, the commissioners rescinded their prior decision last Wednesday and will allow Brinson to keep his job until Jan. 31, 2008, while preparing the two non-profits to handle the county's economic development matters later this year.

Public outcry also prevented the commissioners from following through with a plan to replace several ambulance stations -- in Chinquapin, Kenansville and Pleasant Grove -- with quick response vehicles that would carry the same medical equipment as an ambulance but would not provide transportation.

The commissioners wanted to implement the plan to cut county expenses. Instead, the commissioners approved keeping ambulances at all eight stations at an additional cost of about $372,000.

The county's fire departments could also benefit in the next year. Each of the county's 20 fire departments receive an annual allocation of $20,777.01. With an approved 14 percent increase in allocations, each department will now receive $23,685.80. The increase is expected to lessen the need of each department to hold independent fundraisers throughout the year for needed equipment and supplies.

Prior to the public hearing, the commissioners will hold their regularly scheduled meeting at 9 a.m. Monday in the county office building.

Kristy Brinson of the Duplin County Sheriff's Office is scheduled to report the office's attempt to reclassify jobs within the department. Ms. Brinson said last week that the department would try to reclassify several jobs to find more money for operations and salary increases.

Bee Barnette of the county's solid waste department will also address the commissioners concerning salary adjustments for his employees.