06/17/08 — Duplin gives budget OK

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Duplin gives budget OK

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 17, 2008 1:45 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County Commissioners voted 5-1 Monday night to adopt a $47.5 million general fund budget, but not before two of their members criticized it as being tainted by misinformed politics and personality squabbles.

Commissioners Reginald Wells and L.S. Guy bemoaned that taint, but Wells joined with the rest of the board to approve the budget. Guy cast the lone "no" vote.

The remainder of the board was silent on the budget other than to vote.

As approved, the budget maintains the county's current tax rate of 79 cents per $100 valuation. The new budget is effective July 1 and commissioners will meet in special session on Monday, June 30 at 3 p.m. to close out the current budget.

Wells and Guy admonished the board for its decision to scrap a pay and job classification plan they said that the county had promised its employees in lieu of a 4 percent across-the-board pay hike. They agreed that salaries are an issue that will continue to haunt the county until the board acts.

Guy, a retired educator, and Wells took the board to task for its decision to cut school funding by $1 million. Wells said the county's children are paying for the personality conflicts on the board.

"We know that it is not good," Wells said of the school funding. "Everybody up here ran on education. Everybody talks about education. The kids are suffering because of personalities. We have got to take that out. We, as county commissioners, failed to do what we needed to do and we failed them. I want that on the record."

Guy said he could not vote for the budget because he felt it had been unduly influenced by "misinformed politics."

"I think it is a great error to give so much less to the schools," Guy said. "This budget process got caught up in personalities. This is not about personalities, it is about the children."

As for salaries, Guy said, "We have got ourselves in a mess."

Waiting to address the problem will not make it any better, the two men said.

Wells and Guy voted against a motion earlier this month to scrap the pay plan. The other commissioners, in approving that action, indicated the pay plan could be reconsidered in about 90 days.

However, on Monday, Wells asked board members that if the county did not have the funds to implement the plan now, then where would the funds come from in 90 days.

Guy said that commissioners as a group had agreed to have the pay plan study.

He said the plan would give the county a base from which to move forward on in the area of salaries.

Guy added that he also was disappointed in the funding level for the county's fire departments.

Balancing the budget required the county to use $3,342,728 from its fund balance -- up $80,000 from the current budget.

County Manager Mike Aldridge told commissioners that their decision to provide the across-the-board salary increase had required expanding the county's current 12-step salary schedule to 15 steps.

He said that was necessary because some employees already were at the top of their pay grade and could not receive additional pay without the addition of new steps.

The budget includes $57,843 for a wellness program for county employees. Aldridge has hailed the plan as a way to save money by reducing the number of insurance claims and doctors' visits.

In the Sheriff's Office, federally seized assets will fund $52,838 for eight months of salary and benefits for two gang officers.

The budget also includes $97,005 for one new part-time and one new full-time position for campus security at James Sprunt Community College.

Another $46,194 was added to the budget to fund two part-time security positions for the department of social services. The positions had been cut in the original budget proposal.

As instructed by the board at a work session last week, funding has been returned for the county's recreation and parks department.

As first presented, the budget would have eliminated two positions and $30,000 for a matching funds grant program.

The $30,000 was returned to the budget as well as $50,000 to fund the position of parks and recreation director.

The county's schools will receive $6.9 million --$420,117 less than they received in the current budget.

The budget had included another $295,984 in restricted-use funds for the schools. However, the funding was eliminated at a budget work session.

At that session the board approved a motion by Commissioner Zettie Williams to drop those funds from the budget. Mrs. Williams said she wanted to delay the funding until such time as the board could afford the $750,000 originally sought for that line item.

The board let stand a 10 percent reduction in travel that is expected to save about $30,000.

Several vacant county positions were left that way including a part-time clerical worker in the parks and recreation department, an assistant economic development director and a recycling coordinator.

A vacant state-grant-funded secretary position in the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service office will not be filled when the grant expires on June 30.

In his presentation, Aldridge noted that the state's Medicaid Relief legislation reduced the county's Medicaid expenses by $1.5 million but had also reduced sales tax revenues by $1 million.