05/28/08 — Duplin County faces major budget cuts

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Duplin County faces major budget cuts

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 28, 2008 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County commissioners have held true to their promise of no tax increase in their new $48 million general fund budget proposal, but it comes at a cost of four county job positions, deep cuts in department requests and will require a $4 million drawdown from the county's general fund balance to make it all work.

The proposed budget also includes a new job classification and pay plan for county employees, although not at the level that had been anticipated.

A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held Monday, June 2 at 6 p.m. at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service building near the Duplin County Events Center. The hearing will follow county commissioners' regular first-of-the-month session that will start at 4 p.m.

The budget, hammered out after three days of workshops last week, eliminates four positions -- two of which are currently vacant. The cuts reduce the budget by about $150,000.

Two of the positions are in the county Parks and Recreation Department, where the county will eliminate the director's job as well as a part-time clerical worker. Those two jobs combined cost the county about $60,000.

Another $30,000 is being cut from the recreation department. The county had been participating in a matching-funds program that required it to provide the $30,000 that was used to provide matching funds to help community-based recreation groups.

Also eliminated are positions in the Solid Waste Department, with a $40,000 salary, and an assistant director in the Economic Development Department, with a $50,000 salary. Both of those positions are vacant.

County Manager Mike Aldridge said the economic development job had been re-instated last year after having been missing from the department for several years. Before the position could be filled former economic development director Woody Brinson retired and the county decided to revamp the entire department.

"If we have done without this long, then we can do without it," Aldridge said.

Commissioners whittled the cost of implementing the job classification and pay plan from $1.45 million to $1 million.

"Commissioners wanted to include it, but they were under budget constraints and did not feel like they could raise taxes to justify salary increases for county employees," Aldridge said.

The board considered, but rejected, implementing the plan in January in order to split the cost over two years. Commissioners also looked at implementing the plan over a three-year period.

Aldridge said he had opposed that option. A similar attempt several years ago to phase in a pay plan over two years fizzled after just one year.

"I hope it (pay plan) will survive (final budget cuts)," he said.

Another cut is in travel. The budget cuts that line item by 10 percent -- a savings of about $31,000.

"That won't paralyze anyone, but it might keep them from making less-critical trips," Aldridge said.

Aldridge said the board hopes that two changes in health care will save the county money.

The proposals include switching to a self-funded insurance program and implementing a wellness program. The budget allocates $57,000 for the wellness program that will be managed by the county health department.

The goal of the wellness program is to promote good health and control health issues in an effort to reduce insurance claims, accidents and productivity lost because of sickness, he said. The program and results will be monitored to determine the program's effectiveness.

Health department nurses and physicians' assistants will also oversee health care for inmates in the county jail. In the past the county had contracted with Dr. Corazon Ngo, a private physician, to provide the care.

Aldridge said the county was satisfied with the quality of care provided by Dr. Ngo. However, there are times when she has been unavailable. At those times the county had to go to the expense of taking an inmate to the hospital emergency room. Those trips are costly in terms of health care and staff, he said. There are security concerns as well, Aldridge added. If a physician is required, county Medical Director Dr. Hervy B. Kornegay Sr. will be available, he said.

One of the biggest reductions in requests involves the county's fire departments. As proposed the budget allocates just $525,000 for the fire departments -- a 5 percent increase -- well short of what had been requested. Aldridge noted that the departments received a 15 percent increase in the current budget. The departments originally had sought $2 million for 2008-09. At the county's request that was pared down to $1,008,000 -- still a 100 percent increase.

Duplin County Public Schools had sought some $13 million. The budget proposal recommends just over $7.2 million.

The budget reflects an additional $236,896 for the sheriff's office. About $180,000 of that will be used to buy new vehicles.

Three services, education ($8,836,910), human services ($16,104, 503) and public safety ($12,348,723), gobble up just over $37 million -- three-quarters of the budget.