06/18/08 — County approves $162 million budget

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County approves $162 million budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 18, 2008 1:46 PM

A $162 million budget complete with a 2.3-percent across-the-board pay increase for county employees, additional deputies for the Sheriff's Office, higher landfill fees and funding for a summer school program was approved Tuesday by the Wayne County Board of Commissioners.

The property tax rate will remain at 76.4 cents per $100 of valuation.

Commissioners gave their unanimous approval to the budget following a brief public hearing and work session.

The budget allocates $18,887,994 for the public schools' current expenses, including $587,000 for Edgewood Community Development School and $150,000 for the Wayne Initiative for School Health (WISH) program.

It also contains a one-time expenditure of $360,000 that includes $250,000 for the summer school program that is scheduled to start July 1. Commissioners had instructed County Manager Lee Smith to place that money in a special line item in order to keep them separate from other school funding.

Also included in that line item are the salaries and benefits for a pre-kindergarten teacher and teacher's assistant for a pre-kindergarten mobile classroom as well as gas for the bus.

Another $2,122,500 is earmarked for school capital outlay.

A $305,000 one-time expansion capital expenditure includes $55,000 for buying and retrofitting a pre-kindergarten bus to be used as a mobile classroom and $250,000 for school security.

The mobile classroom and summer school for rising first- through third-graders will be funded for two years. The programs will be evaluated after that period to determine their effectiveness and the need for future funding.

The budget includes the use of $2.5 million from the county's fund balance over the next two years for school construction.

The budget increases the landfill tipping fee from $23 to $30 per ton. The increase includes a $2 new state tax. Smith said the $7 increase would cost the average household about another 70 cents per month. The minimum fee of $5 will not change.

The annual fee charged for use of convenience centers has been increased from $40 to $60. That fee is charged to each county household that does not have a municipal or private refuse collection service. Smith recommended the increase in order to keep all of the convenience centers open. However, he left open the possibility that the county might have to combine some sites in the northern end of the county.

In another change at the landfill, people will no longer have to drive to the back of the facility to drop off items. Containers will be available at the front of the landfill.

Even with the increases, Wayne County still has the lowest rates in the area, Smith said.

Smith told commissioners that the landfill needs to pay for itself. He reminded them that the county will need to add a new cell at the landfill within the next three years at a cost of between $4 million and $5 million.

Budget approval also implements a new one-time $15 "technology fee" in the inspections department. The fee would be charged to inspections that would normally require more than one visit.

The fee revenues will be used to help offset the cost of installing computers in the vehicles used by inspectors. The computers will allow inspectors to send real-time inspection data to the county. The idea, Smith said, is to save time and travel.

In an effort to prolong the life of office space at the courthouse, the budget includes $150,000 for renovations to the Sullivan Building on Ormond Avenue. The biggest issue in the building is that the elevator does note meet building codes, Smith said. That project is expected to cost about $85,000.

Once renovations are completed, some offices now in the courthouse will be shifted to the Sullivan Building. The county might also look at renting or buying more space as well, Smith said.

The budget also reflects more state mandates. North Carolina now requires counties to participate in local funding for the foster care program. This requirement will cost the county about $400,000 over the next year.

The budget also has taken about a $2 million hit in sales tax revenues. Under the state's Medicaid "relief" program the state assumes more the cost for Medicaid. However, in doing so the state also takes half of the Article 44 one-half cent sales tax.