06/25/07 — County expected to vote on budget Tuesday

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County expected to vote on budget Tuesday

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 25, 2007 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners is expected to vote on the county's 2007-08 budget at a special session Tuesday morning.

Meeting at 9 a.m., the board is likely to approve the $107.6 million proposal, which includes a 2.9-cent tax increase. That hike would raise the county's tax rate from 73.5 cents per $100 value to 76.4 cents.

The proposed increase is down from County Manager Lee Smith's original request of 5 cents. His original budget totaled $108.8 million, but was cut following several work sessions with the commissioners, during which they went over it line item by line item.

Smith has explained that the reason for the tax increase is because of the higher costs of funding the county school system and Medicaid.

The school system was given a $725,000 raise, bringing its operating budget up to slightly more than $18.6 million. That total, however, does not include any funding of the $12.5 million expansion budget requested by the school board to address the county's graduation rate, test scores and the recruitment and retention of teachers.

The school system also is scheduled to receive about $1.8 million in capital outlay funds, although none of that is earmarked for the $105 million long-term facilities plan still being discussed between the two boards.

Medicaid, which is estimated to increase by about $1.7 million, will cost the county a total of $8.4 million.

The county's departmental operating costs, on the other hand, were cut by $890,000. Wayne Community College's capital outlay budget also was cut $850,000 when the decision was made to repair only one of the college's two damaged roofs.

Other budget reductions came through decisions to delay a scanning project at the county Health Department, keep the Wayne County Historical Society at its current funding level, cut the county manager's professional services line item and fix a simple clerical error in another one of the county manager's line items.

Of the 33 new positions requested by county departments, only four were included in the budget -- an animal control officer, a deputy director for the county Department of Social Services, a delinquent tax collector and a tax assessor. Two others also were recommended -- a health specialist and a nutritionist -- but both positions would be grant-funded and would end when the money ran out.

Among those scheduled to not receive additional personnel is the sheriff, who requested 18 new positions -- eight deputies, one detective and nine in the detention center. Sheriff Carey Winders also asked for 20 new vehicles, but will be getting only 10, all of which will be paid for out of the office's drug seizure funds.

The county's fund balance also is expected to begin the year between $23 million and $24 million, as no money has been allocated from it to pay for the 2007-08 budget.

And while the commissioners have voiced their disappointment about the need to raise taxes, all have blamed it, in large part, on the fact that the state will not take over the counties' share of the Medicaid burden.

Smith has said repeatedly that of the county's budget, only 13 percent is truly controlled by local officials.

"There are cuts that can be made, but those will begin to chop at services," Commissioner Atlas Price said after the public hearing, at which nobody stood in opposition to the budget. "It looks like it probably will be approved. We're in a situation we don't have much choice. 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.

"It's hard, but I believe most of the commissioners will go with it. As bad as I hate to, I believe I'll go with it."