05/06/08 — Duplin commissioners start looking at budget „ and deficit

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Duplin commissioners start looking at budget „ and deficit

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 6, 2008 1:45 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County commissioners Monday morning got a glimpse of a draft general fund budget that is $6 million out of balance -- with an additional $2 million in deficit possible depending on the county's decisions on personnel.

The additional imbalance would occur if the county implements recommendations of a classification and compensation study that are not currently included in the draft budget.

"You could cut out a complete department, and it still would not close the gap," Duplin County Manager Mike Aldridge said.

No fund balance appropriations are currently budgeted in the draft.

Revenues for the 2007-08 budget general fund total $47,480,801 including more than $3.26 million from the fund balance. The draft budget shows $43,744,746 in revenues without any monies from the fund balance yet budgeted.

General fund expenditures in the 2007-2008 budget total $47,480,801, while $48,344,733 is projected in the draft budget.

The draft budget does not call for any increase in the county's current tax rate of 79 cents per $100 valuation. According to Aldridge, preliminary ad valorem taxes are currently projected to experience a 2.25 percent increase in growth over the past year.

The board will hold budget work sessions on May 21, 22 and 23 at 9 a.m. each day in the commissioners' meeting room. A budget hearing will be held on June 2 at 6 p.m. at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service office.

The board's May 19 session will be held in the Social Services building at 9 a.m. at which time the board will discuss the classification and compensation study. Aldridge said the location had been changed to have a larger room to accommodate an expected large turnout.

The draft does not include any new positions and provides only $287,455 for capital outlay for the general fund departments.

"That is not a lot of money countywide for capital outlay funding," Aldridge said.

He noted that Sheriff Blake Wallace had requested 20 new employees for his office to be implemented over a period of several years.

"We are trying to hold the line on staffing," Aldridge said. "The need is there, but we are just not in a position to fund it right now."

He said no positions or departments have been eliminated. The draft also does not change any employee benefits.

Aldridge called the budget a "moving target."

"This is just a preliminary draft so don't get excited yet," he told commissioners.

The budget includes a 5 percent increase in funding for both James Sprunt Community College (JSCC) and Duplin County Public Schools -- amounts Aldridge called "substantially less than requested."

The public schools had sought $13 million. The draft budget includes $7,715,029 for the schools.

For, JSCC, the draft includes $1,613,397.

Health insurance cost is expected to increase by $270,000 (about 11 percent over the current year).

Aldridge said the county is looking at moving to a self-funded plan that would enable the county to offer Blue Cross Blue Shield at the approximate same overall cost.

There will be no changes in emergency medical services, but the $2.45 million requested by the county's fire departments has been reduced to $1 million.

Aldridge said several new state requirements will impact the budget.

He called Medicaid a "complicated animal" whose "uncertainty makes you cautious."

However, he said it appears that the net results of the changes could benefit the county by about $500,000 annually.

The E-911 telephone surcharge will be collected and audited by the state. He said some expenses that were previously paid by those fees now will have to be paid through county funds.

Also, the state now requires the counties to pay for the voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems for the courts. That amounts to about $24,000 and is not included in the draft.

There are several items not in the budget that Aldridge said the county would "be foolish to ignore."

Those projects include expansions at the county jail; renovations to the mental health building; expansion to the county's water and sewer systems; a back-up 911 dispatch center; and demolition of the old Chinquapin School.

He did not provide any cost estimates on those items.