06/05/07 — Public gets a chance to look at Duplin budget

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Public gets a chance to look at Duplin budget

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 5, 2007 1:45 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County residents got a chance to get a closer look at the county's proposed budget during a public feedback session Monday night.

After county staff prepared a budget to suit the county commissioners' directives to cut the tax rate and reduce the use of reserves from the current year's $3.3 million to $1.85 million, several departments appealed their cases, saying they needed more money to operate.

Commissioners will vote June 18 on the revised budget, which includes some accommodation of those requests, but maintains lower taxes for residents.

The proposed 1.5-cent tax cut remained at 79 cents on the $100 worth of property, rather than the current rate of 80.5 cents.

But an additional $2 million in spending added to the budget will force the county to abandon its plan to cut its use of reserves. That number will stay at $3.3 million, rather than the $1.85 million commissioners had hoped for.

County Manager Mike Aldridge said the county will buy no new vehicles and make very few capital improvements in the coming year.

"When we started, we realized things would be tight," he said.

After the outcry, the staff reworked the budget and added $100,000 more to the James Sprunt Community College budget and $750,000 more to the public schools' allotment.

The previous budget did away with Parks and Recreation altogether and forced Economic Develop-ment director Woody Brinson to retire July 1.

The new budget reinstates Parks and Recreation and puts Brinson back to work for a while longer. The changes will cost $30,000 for the county's portion of a grant to fund Parks and Recreation and $35,000 to keep Brinson on staff until his scheduled retirement Jan. 31.

The new budget also gave an additional $360,000 to keep Emergency Medical Services at its current level of funding rather than cutting $400,000. Another $113,000 will be allotted to the county jail.

Five speakers thanked commissioners for making the changes in the budget, and Dr. Wiley Dobey, superintendent of the public schools, was first.

"There is a critical need for improvement in our school system, he said. "You have a difficult task."

But the needs are urgent, he said. Over the next six years, Duplin students are going to have to increase 37 percentage points to meet standards set by No Child Left Behind.

"The schools, we feel, are an important issue in terms of quality of life," he said.

After the meeting, Duplin Board of Education Chairman Emily Manning added her support to the need for making education a priority in Duplin County -- and keeping the schools strong. That means money to hire the best teachers and administrators.

"We have some fantastic people in the school system, but we have to compete to keep them," she said.

Currently, she said, the college graduates from Duplin have to find good-paying jobs elsewhere.

"We talking about children's lives and the life of our county," she said. "We'd like for (the grads) to have really good jobs to come back to."