06/01/09 — Hearing to be set on county budget

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Hearing to be set on county budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 1, 2009 1:46 PM

The $157.6 million county budget commissioners will be asked to set a public hearing on Tuesday reflects a 3.2 percent reduction over this year's budget while maintaining the tax rate at 76.4 cents per $100 of value.

The meeting gets under way with a briefing session at 8 p.m. followed by the meeting at 9 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

The budget hearing is expected to be June 16 at 10:30 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room.

The proposed budget calls for the continuation of the four-day workweek and the practice of not filling vacant positions. There is no increase in the total allocation for the county schools or Wayne Community College.

The budget does include the second year of operational funding for the Wee Wings bus mobile classroom project and the summer school program for second- and third-grade students. The programs are to be reviewed before consideration for funding in 2010-11.

County employees can expect to see some changes, particularly in insurance, if the budget proposal is approved.

One area where they won't see a change is salary. There will be no salary increases including cost of living or merit.

The budget would double the health insurance deductible from $500 to $1,000 annually and increase the top two pharmacy co-pays by $5 each.

A $115 monthly increase in the individual health insurance rate would affect approximately 15 retired employees. The rate would increase from $435 to $550. It will not affect present employees since the county offers individual health insurance at no cost to full-time employees.

In a related insurance issue, the budget recommends that the county no longer offer post-retirement benefits to employees hired after July 1.

All departments will be required to reduce travel and training except for those areas requiring recertification and licenses.

In his budget message, County Manager Lee Smith said not filling vacant positions helped to keep the county from implementing layoffs and salary reductions.

Not filling eight vacant positions this year will mean a savings of $200,000, he said.

Smith said that the county has netted a reduction of 110 county positions over the past four years without layoffs or furloughs. That, he said, translates into a yearly savings of $3.5 million or $14.3 over four years.

The county, Smith said, has realized $315,000 in direct and indirect savings through the four-day week that most county offices have operated under since last August. He said that a review of the schedule indicates sick leave and days away from work were reduced as well.

Property taxes account for $48.6 million, about 71 percent, of the $68.4 million general fund. Smith said that reflects a $417,000 increase from the current general fund budget of $48.2 million. It is reflective of "natural growth" in the tax base, he said.

The county is expected to experience a $3.6 million decrease in sales tax revenues.

The General Assembly's Medicaid Relief/Sales Tax Swap legislation approved in 2007 accounts for some of the decrease. In exchange for assuming the responsibility for paying Medicaid costs, the state will take over the proceeds from Article 44 sales tax.

That same legislation also reverts a portion of the counties' remaining sales taxes to towns in effort to hold municipalities "harmless" from the potential loss of sales tax because of the legislation.

The county' draft budget reflects $1.2 million for the county's municipalities.

The slowdown in consumer spending is another factor in the sales tax decline.

County revenues also are taking a hit from a decrease related to the slowdown in construction and the housing market.

Building and inspection permit requests have decreased "significantly," Smith said.

The downturn has cost the county about $250,000 compared to the 2008-09 budget.

Smith also is anticipating a continued decline in revenues from state and federal sources.

A copy of the budget proposal will be located in Smith's office on the fourth floor of the courthouse annex and online at waynegov.com for public review.