06/12/08 — Duplin reviews budget for final approval

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Duplin reviews budget for final approval

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 12, 2008 1:47 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County commissioners Monday reaffirmed their decision to scuttle a pay plan for county employees and to replace it with a 4-percent across-the-board salary increase while holding the line on the property tax rate.

Commissioners also used the budget work session to reinstate positions in the parks and recreation and social services departments that had been left out of their draft budget.

They declined to provide more funding for the county's public schools, but indicated that once the budget process is complete, the two boards need to meet to discuss funding.

The revised $47.5 million general fund budget proposal is expected to be approved when commissioners meet next Monday.

The meeting, which will serve as the board's quarterly evening session, will be held at the N.C. Cooperative Ext-ension Service building across from James Sprunt Comm-unity College at 6:30 p.m.

The changes made Monday will require the county to dip into its fund balance for another $100,000 in order to balance the budget. That will bring the total drawdown of fund balance dollars to $3.3 million.

As originally proposed, the budget included $1 million to implement the pay and job classification plan. However, commissioners dumped that plan by a 4-2 vote during their June 2 budget hearing.

Commissioner L.S. Guy, who voted against the decision at the hearing, was unsuccessful Monday in an attempt to convince the board to rescind its earlier decision.

However, commissioners did say they would reconsider their decision in 90 days, leaving open the door that the plan still could be implemented.

Aldridge noted that the budget proposal does not allocate funds for the plan, but that commissioners could still authorize the plan after the budget is approved.

As they did at their June 2 hearing, commissioners on Monday appeared concerned about the spread of salary increases in the plan. Some employees would receive only a few hundred dollars while others could receive several thousand dollars.

Commissioner Cary Turner, who was working out of the county and could not attend the session, called the News-Argus on Tuesday to ask for a correction on salary figures quoted in an earlier article about the budget hearing.

At the hearing, Turner had expressed concern about the range in salary increases in the pay plan -- from just a few hundred dollars to $9,300. Turner said the salary range reported in the earlier article was too low and was incorrect.

He said that had the range been as small as reported in that article then he would not have been as concerned about the plan.

Also on Monday, the board voted 4-1 to restore a position to the parks and recreation department, as well as funds to be used for a matching-grants program.

Commissioner David Fussell voted "no."

The original budget proposal had eliminated two jobs -- those of parks and recreation Director Diane McNamara and a vacant part-time clerical position.

Commissioners instructed Aldridge to leave the director's job intact at a cost of $52,500. The part-time position will not be replaced.

Also reinstated was $30,000 for the matching-grants program.

"I think (matching grants) has been a very successful program," Aldridge said. "It is a good way for communities to leverage monies to improve parks and recreation for their areas."

Under the program, groups may apply for matching funds for projects that enhance public parks and recreation facilities.

Aldridge said he was glad to see commissioners also kept two security positions in the department of social services at a cost of about $40,000. The state will reimburse about two-thirds of that cost to the county, he said.

Part of the motivation for keeping the security positions, Aldridge explained, was that the two social services employees have been assaulted in recent weeks -- one at the office and the other while visiting a home.

Winslow Tew, president of the Duplin County Firemen's Association, renewed his plea Monday for more funding for the county's fire departments. Tew also spoke at the budget hearing.

Tew said the fire departments need better funding in order to provide the best service possible. Without that funding, some of the smaller departments face the possibility of having to shut down.

He is asking that the county double its annual appropriation from $24,000 to $48,000 per department.

The budget reflects a 10 percent increase from $24,000 to $26,400.

Aldridge said commissioners have indicated they want to increase the appropriations by 10 percent per year until the county reaches the level Tew requested.

As for school funding, Aldridge said it appears that commissioners want the schools to spend down on their approximately $3 million fund balance.