07/11/10 — Residents already feeling effects of state budget cuts

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Residents already feeling effects of state budget cuts

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 11, 2010 1:50 AM

The effect of a state budget that cut human service programs can be seen in the faces of Wayne County residents who have been forced to quit work to stay home with a child.

"We had people getting up to 20 hours (of in-home service) a week who are down to one or two hours a week," County Manager Lee Smith told county commissioners last week. "I have employees who now have a spouse who had to quit work because they have to stay home, and now they are in financial trouble. It is a domino effect."

He also noted that some budget reductions mean lost jobs.

Smith told commissioners they probably can expect to receive calls about reductions in in-home services.

He said the reductions could lead to some people being placed in nursing homes, which could drive up the state's Medicaid budget.

"I tell you, long session, they (legislators) are going to be talking to you about Medicaid again as far as the relief (to counties)," he said.

Smith made his comments after Commissioner Steve Keen said that state cutbacks would affect families who receive in-home services through the Department of Social Services. He asked Smith to compile a list of how many Wayne County residents would be affected.

Smith said that there are actually three components involved in the cutbacks and that statewide the total of people affected is probably close to 40,000 when DSS, Mental Health and Services on Aging are included.

Earlier in the meeting commissioners quizzed Smith as to how state budget cuts would likely affect Wayne County.

Smith said he already had told county department heads to provide impact statements as to how their budgets and offices will be affected by another year of reductions in state funding.

"Right now we do not know," Smith said. "Right now I am not expecting anything earth-shattering. One of the things I am concerned about is there are some reimbursement issues in the Department of Social Services."

Smith said the departmental information probably would be contained in the quarterly reports that commissioners receive.

"I will tell you, this year, probably more so than last year, it is just hold the course," Smith said. "You are not going to see a lot of new. I think you are going to see a lot of holding back, probably at a greater degree than we did this past fiscal year.

"I am more afraid of the federal budget because I think it will have a lot of impact on the state. I don't think the state realizes what kind of impact it is going to have."

However, it will be months before it is known what the federal budget will be, he said.

Smith said he was not trying to put commissioners off, but that, "It is really hold until we see where we are." He added that the county would continue to hold off on filling job vacancies to an even greater degree than last year, except for 24-hour shift positions.

Commissioner Bud Gray asked Smith how the state's decision to cut back on lottery funds would affect local schools.

The state not only reduced allocations from the lottery, it changed how they can be used. When first established, lottery money was designated for school capital projects only. The state budget signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Beverly Perdue allows local school boards to ask for some of the funds to be used to pay for classroom teachers.

"The lottery was set up for capital," Smith said. "I do think it is a mistake. I do know schools need money for operations, but it is a bad idea to use capital money for operations."

The county already is in the process of using its previous lottery funds for school renovation projects.

The "blessing" for the county is that it had not started projects at Norwayne or Eastern Wayne middle schools, Smith said.

"We were obligated with the LGC (Local Government Commission) application to use lottery money (for the renovations)," he said. "Had we done that (other projects) we may be on the hook for that. We are going to have to revisit that in the next year as to how we are gong to do that."

North Carolina's lottery is only about five years old so the state does not have a real history with it, Smith noted.

"They have already changed it faster than Virginia did years ago," he said. "Virginia's was 10 or 12 or 13 years, then changed. Well, our legislators have already changed it. Quite frankly, it is money that you cannot count on."

Smith reminded commissioners that they have planned to look at capital projects in the fall. Currently, the only major capital project is the new emergency communications system that is being financed through a bank loan.

The "worst thing" the county could try to do is estimate lottery proceeds, he said.

Commissioner Sandra McCullen, who is the associate superintendent curriculum and instruction for the county schools, said that she does not believe that there will be a need to use lottery funds for school operating expenses.

She agreed that it was money that could not be depended on and that Wayne had been wise not to do so.

Commissioner Andy Anderson also questioned why the state is requiring so many redundant ethics programs.

"They (legislators) don't seem to think about it," said County Attorney Borden Parker. "There is a lot of not thinking going on up there (legislature)," he said.