06/17/09 — County approves '09 budget

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County approves '09 budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 17, 2009 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $157.6 million budget Tuesday that maintains the current tax rate of 76.4 cents per $100 worth of property and does not contain any fee increases.

The new budget becomes effective July 1.

Commissioner Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Wayne County Public Schools, recused herself from the issue and did not vote on the budget.

Mrs. McCullen said she had checked with the state School of Government before running for commissioner to ensure there would be no problems with her status.

"I felt it (recusing herself) was the right thing to do and that is why I chose to do," she said after the vote. "That was the only vote they (School of Government) felt like I needed to recuse myself."

State officials said it was not so much a question of conflict of interest as it is a matter of perception, she said.

There was no discussion of the budget other than commissioners praising County Manager Lee Smith and his staff for their work over the past several years to prepare the county to weather the tough economic times.

Once the budget becomes law July 1 it will be frozen. There will be no new spending nor hiring, Smith said. The freeze is because neither the state nor federal budgets have been approved and there are uncertainties surrounding the amount of money the county will receive, Smith said.

One funding source that has taken a significant pounding is sales tax revenues, which are down by $3.6 million compared to last year.

Smith has said the county is in better shape than many counties in the state because of it taking a conservative approach in revenue estimates and controlling operational costs.

The hiring freeze has been in place for several months. Only emergency positions, such as telecommunicators, will be filled, otherwise the county will continue its efforts to pare down the number of positions.

The county has trimmed its job force by 110 positions over the past four years, Smith noted, creating a savings of $14.3 million.

Smith has said he plans to cut eight positions for a savings of $250,000 and that his goal is 15 more through attrition and not layoffs.

The budget also keeps in place the four-day workweek that most county offices have been operating under since last August. Currently, there are no plans to expand the four-day workweek to other county departments.

Smith estimated that the schedule, combined with more efficient routing of county vehicles, has saved the county about $315,000.

The budget includes no salary increases for county employees. Changes to the county's health insurance will increase the deductible from $500 to $1,000 and the top two pharmacy co-pays will increase by $5 each. Also, retirees will see their premium increase from $435 to $550.

Changes also are in store for employees hired after July 1 -- they will not be eligible for post-retirement benefits.

School funding, one of the budget's major expenditures, was kept at the same level as this year's budget.

Major expenditures include:

*Public assistance, $21,841,172

*Wayne County Public Schools, current expense, $18,887,994

*Wayne County Public Schools, capital outlay, $2,000,000

*Public health, $8,061,278

*Solid Waste Fund, $5,848,053

*Emergency Medical Services, $5,030,886

*Wayne Community College, $3,488,398

The new budget includes a $9.2 million capital improvement plan. The bulk of the projects relate to safety and operational issues that cannot be ignored, Smith has said.

The plan includes $856,000 for emergency telephone upgrade; $248,660 for elevator upgrades; $2 million for landfill expansion; $420,000 for software upgrade for tax listing/collector; $350,060 for courthouse/annex renovations; and $2.5 million for county schools capital improvements.