05/18/10 — City listens to public's views on cuts, tax hike

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City listens to public's views on cuts, tax hike

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 18, 2010 1:46 PM

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Members of the Goldsboro City Council listen to comments during a public hearing Monday night on the city's proposed budget for 2010-2011. From left are Mayor Al King, Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen, the Rev. Charles Williams and Jackie Warrick.

The majority of those who addressed the Goldsboro City Council Monday evening were cordial -- thanking the board for its "hard work" and years of support for local organizations who rely heavily on allocations from the city and county governments to survive.

But one city resident took aim at City Manager Joe Huffman during a public hearing on his proposed 2010-11 budget, calling for the end of what he called "wasteful spending" and unnecessary increases in tax and service rates.

Johnnie McKoy said it was "sad" that while working families are struggling to keep their homes, the city government is talking about placing additional burdens on them in the form of a proposed 5-cent tax increase, 15 percent water rate increase and 5 percent sewer rate increase.

"I know in my home, things that we did last year, we don't do this year, and it's a sad situation to ride around Goldsboro, seeing people's homes being foreclosed, people out of work, people walking the street who can't find jobs. We're still cutting back on our budgets at our homes in order to try to make ends meet," he said. "But it appears that some of the thinking in the upper echelon is not in tune with the thinking of working families. ... If we, as citizens of this city, can trim our budgets and cut back and do without some things even though we want them, I think that the city needs to be in tune and do the same thing.

"I think that (Huffman) needs to learn how to use and budget what we have, or maybe we need to get another city manager. ... We need people in positions who can run the house. If we can skim and do without, I think you all need to get in line with us. ... We are all struggling and I don't think it's right for the citizens to struggle and the city not to. We don't need no rich city."

McKoy was one of only about a half-dozen people who spoke during the public hearing -- dozens were on hand, but most showed up to support the person speaking on behalf of whichever organization they were a part of.

And he was one of only a few who spoke from the perspective of a citizen.

Most of the others came to talk about their organizations, how the proposed 20 percent reduction in funding for them would impact those they serve.

Like Jane Rustin, who spoke on behalf of the Wayne County Museum.

"Most of our revenue comes from the city and the county," she said.

So a 20 percent reduction, she said, would be a significant blow to the group's $40,000 operating budget.

"It doesn't sound like a lot, but when you think of a budget of $40,000, that's a whopping 6 percent of that very meager budget," she said.

WATCH medical director Dr. Clark Gaither also addressed the board -- the group asked for $30,000 and, under the proposed budget, would only receive $16,000.

"I'm here tonight to make a case for the balance," he said.

He talked about the positive impact WATCH has had on the community -- how residents who might otherwise go without have received the care and medicine they need because of the program.

And with the opening of a second freestanding clinic over the past year, "in many respects, our workload has doubled," he said.

"So if there is any way possible ... we would respectfully request the balance," Gaither said.

Others also took a few minutes to explain to the council what their organizations do with allocations from the city government -- like Arts Council of Wayne County executive director Sarah Merritt and Boys and Girls Clubs director Mary Ann Dudley.

And then, after nearly an hour, the public hearing was closed.

But that didn't stop Mayor Al King from offering his thoughts on some of the things that had been said to the board, most notably, the comment made by McKoy about the potential need to replace the city manager.

"A lot of people have approached me about what the city manager wants to do. ... So let me make this clear. This council decides. That is what our job is. The city manager recommends," he said. "I know what this man does ... and I could never do it because I wouldn't sit and listen to this garbage."

No formal decision was made on Huffman's recommendation, as he was asked last week to come up with a version of the budget that does not include a tax increase, a plan will be revealed during the council's next budget work session, scheduled for May 26 at 9 a.m.