01/21/09 — Duplin department heads ask for direction with budget

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Duplin department heads ask for direction with budget

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 21, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County employees are lowering thermostats, using scrap paper for notes and are generally trying do more with less as county leaders search for ways to trim costs without raising taxes or laying off employees. But county department heads also are asking county commissioners for a firm commitment about future plans.

County department heads met with the Duplin County Board of Commissioners last week at the county administration building in Kenansville, where county Manager Mike Aldridge handed the commissioners a list of options to help cut rising operating costs.

On his list were options such as selling the Chinquapin School site, the mental health building and an abandoned well on McGowan Road near Faison. Other options, he said, are for the Health Department to take over jail inmate health care, increase water rates, increase solid waste tipping fees or even reduce the number of Emergency Medical Services trucks.

Most of the department heads, however, have already taken measures to help curb spending, such as foregoing travel, continuing education and subscriptions to publications.

Some department heads also had requests.

EMS Director Brian Pearce told commissioners he can work with as many or as few ambulances as they give him, but he pleaded with the board not to lay off any employees.

"We will make it. But whatever you, when you make a decision, please stick to it.... Coming in today, I heard a rumor the county was cutting two ambulances from EMS. The more you talk about it, the worse it makes morale. Make a decision. We can handle a negative decision. And then we can move on with it," he said.

And that -- a desire for more direction -- was the most common sentiment.

Information Technology Director Tom Reaves said it would help give the department heads a feel for the progress they have made if they had a weekly report that shows how much they have saved.

"I'm a detail person," said Reaves, whose department is short-handed and needs well-trained high-tech programmers. "We are putting a lot of work orders on hold, not contracting out the work. We need to know whether to spend (the money for the projects) or hold off some more."

Some departments, though, are looking at having to deal with increases in demands for services, including at the Sheriff's Office and Social Services.

Director Millie Brown said her office is swamped.

"In an economic downturn, this is where people come," Mrs. Brown said.

Her office saw 3,200 people in December -- the most the staff had ever encountered in one month.

More people than ever are going to Cabin Lake, too, Parks and Recreation Director Steve Wilson said.

"We have four full-time people at Cabin Lake, which has seen a $10,000 increase in revenue," he said. "The economy actually helped us. Campers said they're staying local rather than going to the mountains."

But Wilson said he doesn't see how he can cut any more personnel.

"We're operating with a bare-bones staff," he said.

Library Director Linda Hadden said her budget is down to the bare bones, too. She has already reduced her budget by several thousand dollars.

"The moment we heard the economy was getting bad, we looked at how we could re-organize the branch business and reduced delivery between the headquarters library and the branches. When contracts came up for materials and services, I did not renew some of them. Because we pay for our continuing education and travel, I drastically cut that back. I'm encouraging online continuing education," she said.

The only thing left now is to cut services, she said.

Airport Manager George Futrelle told commissioners none of the department heads envy their task, and that all are willing to make do with whatever the board decides.

"We realize you are facing tough times and tough decisions," Futrelle said. "We are looking to leadership to let us know where to make cuts. Most in here are willing, but we have to know exactly what to look at. We can work this out. But we need parameters so we can wrap our hands around it. 5 percent? 6 percent? Whatever you want us to do."