02/24/10 — County gets ready to talk budget

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County gets ready to talk budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 24, 2010 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners will be asked Thursday if they can think of any areas the county needs to be working on that aren't currently being addressed.

That question and others will be posed during the afternoon session of their planning retreat that will get under way at 8 a.m. at the Goldsboro Country Club.

The morning portion of the session will be devoted to reviews of the county audit, current financial reports and capital projects. While the budget process has hardly gotten started, commissioners can expect some budget discussions, too.

County Planner Connie Price is expected to attend to review the county's comprehensive land use plan.

Based on Thursday's meeting, commissioners will probably hold other sessions, County Manager Lee Smith said.

"We just had our budget orientation meeting Tuesday with department heads. I won't have budget requests back until the end of March. That is pretty typical. We gather it and have it ready for the board in May with budget recommendations for the June 1 deadline when I am supposed to have it to the board for presentation."

One of the big concerns this year will be the increased match that the counties will have to pay toward the state retirement system.

That is expected to cost the county half a million dollars, Smith said.

"We have to find a way to fund that through existing revenues," he said. "That is going to be tough, but I think we can pull it off if all of the departments work together.

"That also means we have to look at all aspects of the benefits, what we are doing, all the costs of operations to try and find it. It (increase) is a requirement. It is not something that is an option."

It is being estimated the amount will continue to increase over the next five years, he said.

"That is huge and we have got to figure out how we are going to pay for it," Smith said. "With the exception of ambulances, equipment at the landfill and some assets, we are a service industry and we are made up of people. So my cost is labor. That is the majority of my cost."

Unlike last year when an outside facilitator was brought in, Smith said he will handle those duties at Thursday's retreat.

"We will be going over the audit and we will be going over our up-to-date financials," he said.

Finance officer Pam Holt will give six-months review of "where we are, a snapshot of a half year and how things are looking," he said.

Davenport and Associates will review the country's capital plan and an analysis of where the county stands on issues such as debt per capita and operations.

"From there we will get into some issues about capital projects for the future," Smith said. "That usually generates some discussions about capital planning. We also will be having a presentation by (human resources director) Sue Guy and (clerk to the board) Marcia Wilson. I have put them in charge of performance management. They will discuss what departments are doing in regards to performance management and where we are."

Smith also plans to lead a discussion on the county's future goals.

"The afternoon is going to be kind of different," Smith said. "I don't have a set agenda. I am asking a couple of questions. An example of one of those questions is as a board is there anything that we need to be working on as a community or county that you don't think we are working on? What are those things?"

Smith said that one thing he hears not just from this board, but from prior boards as well, is that they just don't get a chance to openly discuss concerns.

"I want to give them the opportunity for that to happen," he said.

Smith said there are not likely to be any big operational changes in the county.

"The biggest are going to be a couple of capital projects over the next 24 to 36 months that we are going to have to move on. Or in my opinion, I feel that we should move on. We are getting ready in the next six to eight months to wrap up the radio (emergency communications) project. Really, (capital projects) will be Services on Aging, Health Department and the library in Mount Olive."

The county purchased the William Street property last year with an eye toward renovating it to house the Health Department and Services on Aging. It also purchased the old Belk's store building in Mount Olive to house an expanded and regional Steele Memorial Library.

"We will talk about 12 to 24 to 36 months out and where we are financially and why we need to do that," he said.

Smith said the county has "really changed gears" compared to two to three years ago when the campus concept was favored.

"We have some estimates on the William Street (old Masons store) property," he said. "We have reduced our costs so far by $43 a foot to renovate vs. new. We are trying to do things that are cost-effective but that are service-effective. They serve the public at a reasonable cost."