08/24/07 — Wayne Commissioners talk about taxes, schools

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Wayne Commissioners talk about taxes, schools

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 24, 2007 2:01 PM

Despite less than a dozen people showing up at Rosewood High School Thursday evening, Wayne County officials were reasonably pleased with the results of their first town hall meeting.

"A lot of good can come out of these types of events because we need to hear from you," county Commission Chairman John Bell said. "It's your tax dollars that we're spending, and we don't want to spend them if it's not right."

Headlining the evening was Medicaid reform, the possibility of a sales or land transfer tax referendum and the status of the school board's facilities priority list. But any topic was open for discussion -- including minimum housing and junked car ordinances, the animal shelter and annexation.

Held in Rosewood's cafeteria, beginning at 6 p.m., the first half hour was spent allowing people to mill around and talk with various county officials.

After that, Smith loaded up a short PowerPoint presentation to help illustrate some of what's going on in the county -- brief explanations of county departments and services and a quick breakdown of the county budget.

He then began addressing questions and comments turned in at the meeting and via the county's Web site, www.waynegov.com.

In terms of Medicaid, Smith said that he is basically adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Because of the way prices have increased in recent years, he is not expecting much improvement until 2008-09.

"We will pay the (budgeted) $8.3 million this year, if we're lucky," he said.

Additionally, he voiced skepticism over the state's ability to fulfill its pledge to absorb the counties' share over the next three years.

"I doubt very seriously we will see that in the next three to five years," he said, concerned, too, about the state also taking back a half cent in sales tax revenue. "My problem with losing that, is that I'm losing a revenue I knew grew every year."

To help offset that, however, the state is allowing counties to ask their residents whether they want a quarter-cent local sales tax or 0.4 percent land transfer tax. On Thursday, most of the voices in the audience seemed to favor the sales tax.

"The sales tax gets everybody equally," former county commissioner and Rosewood resident George Wolfe said.

The commissioners are hoping to determine after this series of six meetings, which, if either, to place on the May primary ballot.

In terms of schools, though, the issues weren't as clear cut.

Currently, Smith explained that he is preparing a presentation for the commissioners, possibly sometime in September.

"I actually have now begun to look at what funds we have and what we can borrow," he said. "We're looking at a couple of ways to finance."

And right now, all options are on the table -- bond referendums, certificates of participation and pay-as-you-go.

But first, Smith said, the county is still working with the school system to answer questions regarding operational and contingency costs. He also said they're discussing new policies regarding acceptable uses of trailers, and the need for the school system to limit its spending.

Wolfe also said it might be time to consider year-round schools, as well as larger schools to help reduce overhead.

Also discussed was annexation and what role the county plays, which, Smith said, is basically none, advising people to contact their legislators.

Additionally, Winders mentioned that the Goldsboro Police Department will be primarily responsible for covering Rosewood's new Wal-Mart parking lot and store, and Smith said he would research how beer and wine revenues are split between the city and county.

Other concerns focused on minimum housing standards for the county -- the fact that there are none, except for those regulating the age and appearance of mobile homes -- and the junked car ordinance -- the fact that one exists, but with loopholes.

The commissioners' decision to build a new animal shelter, though, did garner some praise.

"It's going to increase the quality of life and the way people think of this county," Wolfe said. "This animal shelter is a very positive move."

Overall, it was a very congenial meeting.

Now, both audience members and county officials just hope more people turn out to the next five.

"It's a good idea. We just need a little more advertising to get the word out there," former school board member and Rosewood resident Lehman Smith. "People who've never been involved in politics, they don't realize how important their input can be."

The next meeting will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at Goldsboro High School from 6 to 8 p.m.

After that, the next four will be Thursday, Aug. 30, at Southern Wayne High School, Tuesday, Sept. 4, at Eastern Wayne High School, Thursday, Sept. 6, at Spring Creek High School and Tuesday, Sept. 25, at Charles B. Aycock High School.