06/20/07 — No talk on new county tax hike

View Archive

No talk on new county tax hike

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 20, 2007 1:46 PM

Despite grumbling in Goldsboro and other communities about the Wayne County Board of Commissioners looking to raise the property tax rate by 2.9 cents, only one person stood and spoke about the 2007-08 budget during Tuesday's public hearing -- and she had only positive things to say.

Sarah Merritt, executive director of the Arts Council of Wayne County, whose organization is scheduled to receive $25,000 -- $5,000 less than requested -- simply thanked the commissioners for the allocation.

And that was it, though County Manager Lee Smith said officials have had some feedback via the county's Web site.

But the commissioners acknowledged that the lack of comment doesn't mean the tax hike is popular.

"(Smith) has communicated to the public the need for what we're doing, but that is not to say the public approves," Commissioner J.D. Evans said.

And even the commissioners themselves, while saying they believe the tax increase is likely their only option, admit they are not excited about the prospect.

"Nobody on the board really wants to raise taxes, but we're caught in a situation I think the public will understand if they really look at it. We have a tough decision. It's complicated," Commissioner Atlas Price said. "The county manager has done everything he can to get (the rate increase) down. There are cuts that can be made, but those will begin to chop at services."

Currently, the county's budget is $107.6 million. It features a $890,000 cut in county department operating costs, but also a $725,000 increase for the county school system and a $1.7 million increase for Medicaid.

Originally Smith asked for a five-cent tax increase, but after several lengthy discussions with the board, he was able to cut the budget down from its starting point of $108.8 million.

And while Commissioner Efton Sager is still holding out a measure of hope that more cuts can be found, he seems resigned to the three-cent tax increase.

"I think we need to continue to look for wasteful spending and if we see any, cut it out," he said. "But the people basically know we've done all we can.

"I think there will be very little change in the budget between now and next Tuesday."

The commissioners will hold a special meeting at 9 a.m., next Tuesday to approve the 2007-08 budget and any necessary budget amendments from the current fiscal year.

Also Tuesday, the board approved the prioritized list of transportation needs sent to it by the Wayne County Transportation Committee. Included in it are:

* The completion of the U.S. 70 bypass from N.C. 581 in Wayne County into Lenoir.

* The upgrading of U.S. 117, from U.S. 40 to U.S. 70, through Wayne, Sampson and Duplin counties, to interstate standards.

* The upgrading of U.S. 13, from U.S. 70 in Wayne County to N.C. 58 in Greene, to freeway standards.

* The upgrading of N.C. 55, from U.S. 40 in Sampson County, through Wayne, to N.C. 11 in Lenoir, to freeway standards.

* The upgrading of Buck Swamp Road, from N.C. 581 to Salem Church Road, to three lanes.

* The re-establishment of rail lines south of Wallace in Duplin County, through Pender and into New Hanover to Wilmington.

* The assistance of the Goldsboro-Wayne Transportation Authority in its attempts to expand its routes and operations.

Now those needs will go to the Eastern Carolina Rural Planning Organization, which will create a prioritized list for 2009-2015 for the region -- Wayne, Duplin, Lenoir and Greene counties -- to submit to the state Department of Transportation.