05/25/10 — Duplin leaders battle over 2010-11 budget; tax increase is likely

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Duplin leaders battle over 2010-11 budget; tax increase is likely

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on May 25, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Tempers flared Monday at a Duplin County Board of Commissioners budget workshop as the commissioners disagreed on how to proceed with a difficult 2010-11 budget.

The proposed budget currently being discussed includes a 2 percent property tax increase, the first tax increase for the county in several years, County Manager Mike Aldridge said.

Commissioner David Fussell urged the board members to look at how much money the county is spending and to consider the strain on taxpayers' wallets.

"The farmer can't stand it. The working person can't stand it," Fussell said.

Fussell said he would vote against the proposed budget because he did not understand it in its entirety, and called the budget a "travesty on the people of Duplin County."

"You do not know what you're doing, I don't know what I'm doing, because the figures don't add up, they don't match," he said.

Commissioner Reginald Wells defended the county's financial staff and accused Fussell of grandstanding.

"We do this every year, you do this, you grandstand every year at budget, you're just as at fault, every year, I'm not going to let you do this this year," he said.

"How are you going to stop me?" Fussell said.

"We're going to stop today," Wells responded.

"I was elected just like you are to represent the people of Duplin County, I've got a right to do what I think the people of Duplin County want done, he can't stop me," Fussell said.

Wells then said he wanted the record to show he would no longer respond to Fussell.

"Well, good," Fussell said.

Chairman Cary Turner called for a 15-minute recess to allow the board to regroup, after which the discussion continued.

Funding for the Board of Education is still undecided in the 2010-11 county budget.

"I need to know from you what you want to do with the Board of Education funding so I know what to do with the budget," Aldridge said.

A 14-cent supplemental tax to pay a $4.8 million lawsuit ruling is a likelihood at this point.

"If we don't hear anything, then I assume we just give them what we gave them last year and send out a supplemental tax," Turner said.

He said he has heard from many residents that they will not pay the tax.

Commissioner Frances Parks and Turner previously appeared before the county school board, first asking that the board work together with commissioners and then offering to approve the school system's $9.2 million budget request and $1.7 million capital outlay request in exchange for forgiving the 2008 $4.8 million judgment against the county. Both attempts failed to garner a majority support from the Board of Education.

However, Ms. Parks said she hoped the board would consider the proposal over time.

The board allowed two members of the audience to share their thoughts on the budget talks during the meeting, although a public hearing on the issue was not planned.

The board did not take action on the budget during the meeting.

The county commission must have a draft copy of the budget June 1 and will reconvene next week at its regularly scheduled meeting June 7. Under state law, the county must pass a balanced budget by June 30.